Do you ever watch a film and think it has a lot on its mind but you’re never quite sure what it’s trying to say? Hotel Artemis starts off promisingly enough; its opening even had me thinking of RoboCop, one of the best examples ever of combining lowbrow thrills with highbrow themes. Artemis has a similar setup of a near-future, crime-ridden cityscape with an innovation designed to clean this mess up that is maybe not so utopian as promised. The hook here is certainly intriguing. The title locale is a hospital catering to criminal members that operates by a code of honor: as long as you behave yourself inside and keep the place a secret, you can misbehave as much as you want outside. But it is ultimately just a superficially jazzed-up version of so many crime flicks we have seen before.

Any hint of a deeper message fades away as it gradually becomes clear that writer/director Drew Pearce is just borrowing ideas from earlier, better films without giving them his own spin. Take the water supply corruption angle of Chinatown, add in the “you’re never out of the game” piece of every assassin movie ever, and you’ve got Hotel Artemis. And all that is just window dressing anyway. Some juicy moments emerge in the form of Charlie Day’s deranged guest refusing to play by the rules, or Sofia Boutella deploying a well-timed leg swivel or even just an eyeroll to ensure her action star bona fides. But as committed as they are, the conflicts they get caught up in are all a bunch of hot air.

For an outlandish premise like this one to work, it typically needs to be grounded by some low-key characters. Artemis does have those, in the form of Jodie Foster’s nurse/manager and Sterling K. Brown’s nattily dressed, upstanding criminal. Alas, the former must contend with a vague backstory about a dead son, while the latter is saddled with the aforementioned hitman cliché. As they make their way around the besieged building, there is a sense that they are looking for their story’s message that maybe has something to do with how we live now, or the future of city living, or the tropes of genre movies. But that message never comes into focus. Oh well, at least there’s Cliff Martinez’s synthy score to groove along to.

Starring: Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Jenny Slate, Charlie Day, Dave Bautista, Brian Tyree Henry, Zachary Quinto, Jeff Goldblum

Director: Drew Pearce

Running Time: 94 Minutes

Rating: R for Gunfire, Throat Slitting, and Unhinged Profanity

Release Date: June 8, 2018

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