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Checking into ‘Hotel Artemis’

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World-building – particularly sci-fi world-building – isn’t easy. Creating a consistent, believable genre landscape is tricky business. And doing it in such a way as to allow for both exciting action and narrative engagement is trickier still.

Drew Pearce knows how tough that can be, having penned scripts for iconic franchises like the MCU (“Iron Man 3”) and “Mission: Impossible” (“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”). But creating something original presents its own set of unique challenges.

Pearce marks his directorial debut with one such original script in “Hotel Artemis,” a gritty bit of near-future sci-fi storytelling. The simplest way to describe it is if you wanted to focus on what happened to bad guys that John Wick injured but didn’t kill, only a decade or so in the future. It has that same sort of hinted-at rich and complex underworld, centered around a hospital where criminals can receive treatment for injuries suffered in the execution of their duties. It’s brutally violent and darkly funny with moments of surprising poignancy.

All that, plus Jodie Foster. What’s not to love?

The year is 2028. Los Angeles is in the throes of large-scale rioting thanks to a corporate monolith’s desire to cut off the public’s water supply. The city is burning, awash in chaos. Foster (in her first onscreen role since 2013’s “Elysium”) is The Nurse, the agoraphobic, alcoholic proprietor of the titular Hotel Artemis, which serves as a hospital where the criminal element can safely recuperate from the wounds incurred in the course of the illegal activities.

The Nurse – along with her aptly-named aide Everest (Dave Bautista, “Avengers: Infinity War”) – patches up anyone who shows up … as long as they’re up to date on their membership fees. Guests are referred to by the names of their rooms (all of which are named after vacation destinations), allowing a degree of anonymity. And much like the Continental in “John Wick,” there are rules against conducting business at the Hotel Artemis.

When a robbery goes bad, two brothers wind up arriving at the Artemis seeking help. The elder brother (Sterling K. Brown, TV’s “This is Us”) winds up in Waikiki, while the younger – and more badly injured – brother (Brian Tyree Henry, TV’s “Atlanta”) is Honolulu. Other guests include the egomaniacal arms dealer in Acapulco (Charlie Day, “Pacific Rim: Uprising”) and a sultry assassin with questionable motives in Nice (Sofia Boutella, “The Mummy”).

While The Nurse does her best to try and save the rapidly failing Honolulu, unexpected dynamics between the guests begin to cause tensions to rise. And some surprise requests for help – requests that come from people with longstanding relationships to The Nurse – threaten to bring the entire enterprise crumbling to the ground.

One such request comes from Crosby Franklin (Zachary Quinto, “Aardvark”) on behalf of his father, who happens to be the crimelord known as the “Wolf King of Los Angeles” (Jeff Goldblum, “Thor: Ragnarok”), who requires the Hotel’s services … and happens to be the guy who founded and funded the whole enterprise.

As L.A. burns this night, many of the longstanding rules of the Hotel Artemis look like they might be broken – and not always by those you’d most expect.

“Hotel Artemis” has a lot going for it. It really is an intriguing concept, this notion of a secret hospital for criminals where they can feel confident in their safety and security. And the movie does a great job of hinting at the larger world without getting bogged down in minutiae. The result leaves the viewer wanting more in just the right way.

Pearce does decent work in bringing that concept to fruition; a few opportunities are missed, but for the most part, the vision is reasonably well-executed. The aesthetic is a high-tech dinginess that is tonally perfect for the story being told. The action sequences are grimy and brutal, jarringly visceral. And then we get the odd moment of levity that serves as a lovely underscoring.

Word on the street is that not only did Jodie Foster agree to do her first acting role in half-a-decade, but she actively lobbied for the part. Whatever the motivation, she leans into it, capturing the damaged world-weariness of The Nurse with the same sort of commitment and talent that she’s brought to the screen for years. It would be a phenomenal performance in any movie, let alone a genre film like this one.

Not a lot of slouches in the rest of the cast, either. Bautista is excellent. Again. It seems like his ceiling just keeps getting higher. He’s perfect for a movie like this. Brown is one of those guys for whom true top-tier success seems just around the corner. He’s great here. Boutella lends surprising to depth to a character who could have rung hollow. Charlie Day is, as always, a delight. His strengths are surprisingly adaptable, allowing for edgy comic relief in this kind of sci-fi action. And Goldblum … good lord. He’s such a weird and wonderful presence – an ideal fit.

Real talk - “Hotel Artemis” probably isn’t as good as I think it is. It certainly has its issues. But the combination of concept and cast is squarely in my wheelhouse; it’s a film intended for me and those like me. Much like another famous pop culture hotel, you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

[4 out of 5]

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