"Hotel Artemis," a dystopian crime drama that never quite lives up to its promising cast and intriguing retro-futurist look, is not train wreck filmmaking. With a number of intriguing story angles, following half a dozen high-end crooks through a private Los Angeles hotel that's really a swanky secret hospital, it's not exactly a car crash movie, either.
It's closer to a filmic freeway fender-bender, with a busted axle, ugly body damage and an ear-splitting horn that just won't stop blaring. It keeps moving forward in a wobbly, noisy way but it never arrives where you hope it will, and it takes a long time, all the same.
The film is seemingly much influenced by the bad guys' Hotel Continental in Keanu Reeves' nutty "John Wick" action fantasies, a secret hideaway for VIP villains that became something of a character of its own.
"Hotel Artemis" is to the Wick movies as a Motel 6 is to a Hilton. It feels underplotted yet overstuffed with characters competing for our attention.
Its rogues' gallery of malefactors includes a gray-haired Jodie Foster as the underground clinic's on-site medic and laser-scalpel surgeon, who is only called "Nurse." Under some degree of her care are Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Charlie Day, Dave Bautista and Zachary Quinto playing residents of dubious provenance. Jenny Slate is a cop. The smallest role of all, as a crime magnate known as the Wolf King, goes to Jeff Goldblum, who proves that he cannot fail even with the most marginal dialogue.
The plot includes one patient who wants to escape the scene as a citywide riot builds ever more dangerously through the night and another with the intention of assassinating a third occupant of the house. But overall, Drew Pearce, making his directorial debut from a script he wrote, doesn't live up to his screenwriting on "Iron Man 3," which combined nutty plotting and knockabout humor in a quite satisfactory way.
Bautista, as Foster's by-the-book nursing assistant, has much less comedy to shoulder than in the "Guardians of the Galaxy" films. With that former wrestling champ in the lineup, it's a surprise that dancer-turned-actress Boutella commands the film's most impressive scenes of combat choreography. The French star high kicks her foes like a one-woman version of the Rockettes. She definitely deserves a heroic or evil co-starring role in the next Wonder Woman movie.
At least there, she would have a comic subtext to smashing up the sets. This movie favors moments of character drama, where tough types reflect on old or imminent family loss amid tears. Foster plays her part with impressive commitment, but the path Pearce maps out for her leads nowhere important. It's a showy throwaway.
For laughs to be ignored by veteran comedian-turned-straight man Day, a key cast member in the decadelong goof "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," is a significant missed loss. "Hotel Artemis" is a popcorn movie with far too many uncooked kernels. Everyone in the cast deserves better, and everyone in the audience even more.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186
★★½ out of 4 stars
Rating: R for violence and language throughout, some sexual references and brief drug use