*. Hotel Artemis is one of those movies I picked off the DVD shelf at the library, surprised by the talent involved in a film I’d never heard of.
*. Well, it went under a lot of people’s radar. Box office was very poor, with the kind of quick drop-off that you get in movies that don’t find any audience. Was this a fair fate?
*. Unfortunately, yes. I say it’s unfortunate because this is a movie that has a lot going for it. I like the premise, which has us embedded in a secret hospital (or “dark room”) for criminals in a near-future Los Angeles. And the cast is excellent, from the leads to the supporting parts. But there are problems.
*. Jodie Foster. One of the most talented actors of her generation. And this is her first film role since Elysium, five years earlier. She came out of semi-retirement for this? What’s going on? Is she not getting any good scripts? I mean, she’s fine in both movies but I can’t see what she saw in either part.
*. Foster got a lot of praise from critics both because she handles the part well and (perhaps even more) because people liked seeing her again. But I like Sterling K. Brown better. I hope he gets a role soon where he can really break out. This isn’t it. Zachary Quinto is also weirdly wasted as the wannabe tough-guy son of the city’s crime lord. Given that he’s such a wimp, it’s hard to feel all that concerned about him as a villain. And Jeff Goldblum is an even bigger waste playing the crime lord. Again, he doesn’t even seem evil, much less threatening.
*. So a good cast, tossed into roles they can’t do much with. Sofia Boutella and Dave Bautista do their usual thing, which is pretty much the same thing except he is beefy and she is leggy. At least they seem comfortable. Charlie Day is the crazy comic relief. Again, comfortable.
*. What went wrong? Something just wasn’t coming through. Listening to the DVD commentary with writer-director Drew Pearce and producer Adam Siegel I was surprised to hear about things Pearce was trying to do that I hadn’t noticed at all. I’ll give a couple of examples.
*. In this future Los Angeles water is a scarce resource, which has led to a city-wide riot breaking out that we get news updates on throughout the film. In my preliminary notes I scribbled out a number of questions I had about this. What relevance did the water shortages or the riots have to do with the rest of the plot? Was any of it necessary?
*. I still don’t see why any of this was included, but in the commentary Pearce explains how he was thinking of the plot of Chinatown, and how this movie was reversing that film’s storyline about bringing water to L.A. by here taking water away from L.A. Which is fine, I guess, but in Chinatown bringing water to L.A. was an important part of the plot. Taking water away from L.A. doesn’t have anything to do with the plot here.
*. Pearce also refers to a “water theme throughout the whole movie.” This surprised me, because I hadn’t noticed anything of the sort. But apparently he was referring things like the presence of water as part of the murals in the different hospital rooms and the fact that Nurse’s son had drowned (or had been made to look like he’d drowned).
*. Even after having this explained I still didn’t really see it. But I also wasn’t sure what the point was. I’m sure Pearce had something in mind, but it wasn’t being communicated.
*. The other surprising moment on the commentary came when Pearce explained that the movie’s biggest inspiration was Casablanca. Again, this is something that I hadn’t thought of at all at the time, and that, even after the connection was explained, I still had trouble seeing.
*. The movie I was most reminded of was Bad Times at the El Royale, which actually came out the same year. The hospital is like the hotel in being a weird, isolated location that a bunch of violent crazies check into, culminating in the usual game of last man (or woman) standing.
*. The script here is scattered. Kenneth Choi shows up as a gangster in the early scenes and then just gets taken out with the garbage and disappears. Nurse has a fear of going outside that I didn’t understand the reason for. Zachary Quinto’s character welds the doors of the hospital shut and I still don’t know why. I know I must have missed something there.
*. It’s hard if not impossible to feel invested in any of the emotional cues. There are some stolen diamonds. Brown’s character loves his brother but is better off without him, so we don’t feel anything when he dies (a power failure knocks out his life support system, though the 3-D printer still works). Boutella’s character has been hired to kill Goldblum, but since we don’t know by whom or for what it’s hard to care about that either. Worst of all, Nurse’s loss of her son just doesn’t have any impact. Foster tries her best to sell it, but it was so long ago and we don’t know who her son was so it doesn’t register.
*. In Greek mythology Artemis was the goddess of the hunt, and also the moon and chastity. So why is this the Hotel Artemis? Shouldn’t it be the Hotel Apollo (brother of Artemis and god of healing) or the Hotel Asclepius? I’m assuming the use of such a name as Artemis had some meaning but I don’t know what it is and I don’t recall it coming up on the commentary.
*. The ending is even more disappointing than all of this suggests. If you were wondering “who’s going to live, who’s going to die” you won’t be surprised. I guess Boutella and Bautista can come back for a sequel. As can Nurse. And Waikiki. Here’s his final line: “Honestly I don’t know where I’m going next. First time in my life I can do whatever I want. Never planned for that.” Brown should have told Pearce that a line like that just wasn’t going to work, that nobody could sell it.
*. I kind of hope they do come back, though I don’t think there will be a sequel. There was some potential here. Maybe it would work the second time around. But it didn’t do anything for me on this visit.