“Everyone’s got their 18-wheeler day,” says The Nurse (Jodie Foster), caretaker of the Hotel Artemis. She’s talking about a beagle she had as a kid. It was accident-prone, and she ended up honing her skills as a nurse by learning how to patch up over the years. Then, one day, while her back was turned, the beagle had its 18-wheeler day.
Foster delivers her expository flashback in a quippy, cranky cadence that’s becoming of her character. A grizzled, take-no-shit nurse who’s made her living providing anonymous and confidential health care to wounded criminals for the past 22 years. But there’s a catch: only members are allowed to check-in to the Hotel Artemis, a makeshift hospital at the top floor of a run-down building in the heart of a riot-plagued near-future Los Angeles.
This world, created by writer/director Drew Pearce, is so aesthetically rich that it’s almost enough to carry the film. A once-opulent palace now covered in yellowed wallpaper and blood-stained throw pillows, it’s a relic from the past untouched by gentrification. Sure, there’s some plot that intertwines the characters, all of whom are guests of the Artemis. A jewel heist, an assassination plot, and the coming arrival of LA’s crime boss, The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum), all loom heavy as The Nurse tries to get through what she keeps calling “just another Wednesday.”
Pearce’s vision aside, Hotel Artemis works largely because the entire cast all seem to commit to the story while having fun when they’re on screen. There’s a distinct tongue-in-cheek nuance to these performances, taking their characters just to the edge of self-awareness without going over. Even when The Wolf King is first mentioned, The Nurse is quick to dismiss the stupidity of his nickname.
It’s easy to draw comparisons between Hotel Artemis and John Wick — the latter of which Pearce served as an uncredited director — as both serve as a window into their respective worlds. In John Wick, The Continental Hotel is a posh hangout for members of an international assassin syndicate. Alternately, the Hotel Artemis is its grungy speakeasy counterpart, a safe-haven for criminals to go and have their bullet-holes sewn shut. The overlap, of course, is that these respective worlds are able to survive solely by the rules that are expected of their guests.
Perhaps the biggest testament to Hotel Artemis is how many potential stories are waiting to be told within its walls. As criminals routinely check in and out, it’s practically an anthological gold mine. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. The possibility of becoming a franchise aside, Hotel Artemis is the best kind of cinematic camp. It’s noisy, violent, humorous, and a hell of a lot of fun. Basically, all the ingredients necessary to become a cult classic. Here’s hoping it realizes that potential and never gets its 18-wheeler day.
Hotel Artemis opens in theaters Friday, June 8th