There was a long period of time where slick crime pictures with deliberately overwritten dialogue felt distinctly like post-Tarantino drivel. The post-Tarantino thriller was a far-too-common manifestation of macho posturing where fresh-out-of-film school cinema bros could indulge in style-over-substance “subversions” of genre flicks – mostly to their own delight. Now that the artform of the Tarantino knockoff is much less ubiquitous, however, it’s evolving into something much more adventurous. Free Fire remolded the overly-talky Tarantino formula into an absurdist meta comedy about how audiences should be feel bad about being endlessly entertained by gun violence. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (embarrassingly) attempted to graduate it to the level of Oscar Bait Melodrama™. Neither were nearly as satisfying as the post-Tarantino sci-fi comedy Hotel Artemis, which has evolved the medium into something I never thought I’d see it become: adorable.
Set in a near-future dystopian Los Angeles where Jodie Foster is clearly tired of your shit, Hotel Artemis details a single night of backstabbing, thievery, and bloodshed among chatty, professional criminals. A sprawling cast that somehow includes Foster, Dave Bautista, Jeff Goldblum, Jenny Slate, Sterling K. Brown, Charlie Day, and Zachary Quinto mingles in the titular art-deco-meets-steampunk hotel while a historically massive riot rages on outside. Stray references to a border wall and the exorbitant cost of clean water detail the general state of the decaying, overpopulated world outside, but Hotel Artemis mostly concerns itself with the John Wickian criminal society that walks its wallpapered halls. “Hotel” is kind of a misnomer, as the space these organized, warring thieves occupy is in fact an underground hospital run by Foster: a rules-obsessed nurse who does not suffer fools gladly. She and Bautista, who acts as her enforcer yet fancies himself “a healthcare professional,” struggle to maintain order on this particularly chaotic night at the Artemis. Various criminal members with barely-concealed agendas talk shit & start deadly fights throughout the increasingly bloody night, counteracting the hotel’s intended function as a hospital for critically injured reprobates. As the situation worsens by the minute, Foster seems more annoyed than disturbed, passing off the rules-breaking violence around her as just another busy Wednesday shift, her least favorite night of the week.
Unlike most overwritten, post-Tarantino crime thrillers, this film is genuinely, consistently hilarious. With the hotel setting and absurdist mix-ups of an Old Hollywood face, Hotel Artemis embraces the preposterousness of its exceedingly silly premise in a way that more cheap genre films could stand to. Foster & Bautista have the adorable rapport of a local news segment on a raccoon that made friends with a baby elephant. Foster shuffles down the hotel’s hallways with animalistic determination & a distinct old-lady waddle that might go down as the comedic physical performance of the year. Bautista brings the same matter-of-fact line deliveries that are so endearing in his role as Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy, somehow making lines like “I will unheal the shit out of you” endearingly warm despite the physical threat of his massive body. Even the general rules of the film’s world-building are treated as a kind of throwaway joke. Characters repeatedly exclaim their surprise at the hotel’s existence, claiming they thought it was a myth, despite the massive neon sign that reads “Hotel Artemis” on the building’s roof. The entire film plays like that, casually breaking with logical consistency for the sake of a gag, relying on the easy charm of its cast and throwaway action movie one-liners like “Visiting hours are never” to pave over any jarring bumps in the road. It’s a gamble that totally worked for me, as I watched the entire movie with the same wide, stupid grin throughout.
I don’t know that I would recommend Hotel Artemis for sci-fi fans specifically. Besides shallowly explored concepts like 3D organ-printing & medically employed microbial robots explained in lines like “Yeah yeah yeah, I know what nanites are,” the movie’s genre beats are more consistently defined by its old-timey hotel setting and its clashes between various criminal elements. There’s minimally-employed CGI and even less world-building exposition, so I’m not sure a true sci-fi nerd is going to get the genre payoffs they’re looking for. Similarly, fans of the Tarantino & John Wick aesthetics the movie superficially echoes in its chatty crime world setting are likely to walk away unsatisfied, as the movie lacks the macho energy of either influence (and is better for it, in my opinion). It’s hard to know who to recommend Hotel Artemis to at all, given its bafflingly low critical scores and the fact that I was the only audience member laughing in my theater (for the first time since . . . Spy? Chappie?). The joys of watching Jodie Foster waddle around the Artemis and lovingly tell patrons they look “like all the shades of shit” are very peculiar & particular, which means that Hotel Artemis will have surprisingly limited appeal for a movie with this objectively wonderful of a cast. That kind of highly specific appeal can be a blessing in disguise for a scrappy, over-the-top genre film, though, and I can totally see Hotel Artemis gathering a dedicated cult following over time. I hope that appreciation doesn’t take too long, though, as Foster & Bautista’s adorable chemistry in this picture deserves to be recognized as a Cinematic Event.