REVIEW / SCIENCE-FICTION THRILLER
HOTEL ARTEMIS (NC16)
94 minutes/Now showing
The story: In a future Los Angeles run by warlords, the Nurse (Jodie Foster) runs a secret hospital for criminals inside the Hotel Artemis, assisted by her trusted orderly Everest (Dave Bautista). The city's poor are rioting over access to water, but her priority is patching up assassins with the codenames Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) and Nice (Sofia Boutella). Soon, she faces a tough decision: Will she choose family over the Hotel's rules, placing herself and Everest in grave danger?
Jodie Foster is not exactly a prolific actress. Since 2011, she has appeared in four movies, three of them dramas that address the world we live in today in an allegorical fashion.
In family drama The Beaver (2011), which she directed, a man wakes up to find that he can speak only through a hand puppet. In science-fiction adventure Elysium (2013), the blighted Earth is home to the poor, while anyone with money has fled to a space station.
In this film, also set in the future, Los Angeles is in the grip of a cabal of politicians and gangsters. The Nurse (Foster) is a cog in the machinery of oppression that keeps the 99 per cent down.
Elysium buries a moral message in a pulpy premise ("rich people live in the sky and the poor are stuck on the ground"). Foster's new movie is much the same ("gangs have stolen all the city's resources; the poor have nothing").
Set-ups like that can lead to fantastic films. Think John Carpenter's Escape From New York (1981) or The Thing (1982).
Despite Foster's credible performance, however, this movie will be forgotten in a month.
Writer-director Drew Pearce makes his feature debut, after a career spent mostly on screenplays (Iron Man 3, 2013; Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, 2015).
Nearly all the action takes place inside the building, once a grand hotel, now functioning like a Swiss bank of hospitals.
The Nurse accepts the worst of the worst without moral judgment. A group of dangerous patients are trapped inside because of the insurrection outside. Each hatches plans to turn the situation to his advantage.
Pearce mixes a range of tones, including the closed-in paranoia of horror classic The Thing, the escape-room thrills of Foster's earlier film, Panic Room (2002), all wrapped in a noir-ish look that recalls Blade Runner (1982).
It is a bold mix, but marred by a lacklustre visual-storytelling style; everybody labours over exposition in dialogue.
There is a fatally mushy, predictable arc for Foster's character.
Finally, the screenplay contrives suspenseful traps for its characters, only to toss them ex-machina escape hatches in the nick of time.