It's tough to talk about Hotel Artemis in any meaningful way, because all of the best adjectives to describe it sound like insults. The thing is, it's a real trashy movie, pulpy and derivative, and these are all good things in this case. It feels very much like the summertime B-movie equivalent of a short story from some beaten-up sci-fi anthology that hasn't been in print since the '70s, quickly fleshing out its scenario and letting it play out mostly without any real plot or drive - "just another Wednesday" is a recurring line throughout the first two-thirds - until the plot very suddenly explodes and destablises that scenario in a downbeat way. It doesn't have much to "say", other than the evergreen "things are shitty and getting shittier", but still feels somehow thoughtful and grown-up even if it is, in all particulars, pure melodrama.

It's 21 June 2028, a Wednesday.* Some undisclosed portion of the United States has fully entered a drinking water crisis, which has been met by a massive multinational corporation privatising water. The result is the largest riot in the history of Los Angeles, but Hotel Artemis isn't a film about water conservation or rioting (this is one of the things about it that specifically feels like a really fine genre short story, this casual way of establishing a background much broader than the story we're actually here to see). Instead, it's about how a woman who prefers to be called just the Nurse (Jodie Foster) copes with things on this one terrible night at the underground hospital she runs, Hotel Artemis. In four rooms named for international resort sites, anyone with a paid-up membership to the hotel can come in and have any injury patched up, no questions asked, first-come first-served. This of course means in practice that Hotel Artemis has a clientรจle exclusively made up of well-to-do violent criminals.

Two of these, the two we first arrive with, are brothers who'll end up being given the pseudonyms Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) and Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry). They've just gotten involved in a bank robbery gone wrong, in part because they weren't planning on the increased police presence brought on by the riots, and Honolulu has taken a bullet to the gut. By the time they arrive, two of the other rooms have been taken: international assassin Nice (Sofia Boutella) has taken a gunshot to the arm, and arms dealer Acapulco (Charlie Day) has had a large portion of his face clawed off by a woman who wasn't interested in his attention. That's a perfectly ordinary night's work for the Nurse and her security guard/orderly/acolyte Everest (Dave Bautista), but two things are going to quickly bring an end to that. First, the Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum), Los Angeles's biggest crimelord and the owner of the Artemis, is being rushed over for emergency treatment despite being on the far side of town, and his hotheaded fuckup son Crosby (Zachary Quinto) has sent a small army of guards to seal up every door to make sure nobody can get in line before his dad. The second thing is that a wounded cop, Morgan (Jenny Slate), has just crawled up to one of the unsecured doors, crying out the Nurse's real name: she was the childhood friend of the Nurse's late son, and despite "no cops" being one of the few ironclad rules of the Artemis, the Nurse doesn't have it in her to be that coldblooded when the past comes right to her back door. Meanwhile, the other rule, "don't kill other guests", is about to be challenged itself: Nice, as it turns out, has faked her way into the hotel as a way of getting close to a target, Acapulco smells this and distrusts her immensely, with violent overtones, and as a direct result, Waikiki has taken an immediate disliking to Acapulco.

It's all less complicated than it sounds, in large part because writer-director Drew Pearce never tries to do more than one thing at a time. For all that the story is pulpy junk food, it has been executed with great classicism: every scene has a specific function and a little tiny three-act structure, every piece of dialogue gives us exactly one bit of information about character or place. Weirdly, the word I most want to use to describe the film, even beyond "trashy", is immaculate: this is unnaturally clean and efficient storytelling by the messy standards of 2010s popcorn movies, which is possibly why Hotel Artemis is able to get in and out in just 94 minutes, during which time it tells a positively epic tale of the most consequential night of the Nurse's tightly-controlled, surprise-free life. Nothing is wasted: when the brothers first arrive, we pick up almost everything we will ever need to see about how the Artemis functions just by watching it put into practice. It's that kind of grown-up film: nothing about it is necessarily smart, clever, or unusual, but it simply expects a viewer that's paying attention and able to make logical inferences without having them carefully spelled out. That this is a shocking delight says more, I think, about every other movie than it does about Hotel Artemis, which really is just a sleazy little thriller, but it's still hugely gratifying.

Also gratifying: pretty much everything else. This is a consummately well-made film, most obviously in its wonderful production design by Ramsey Avery, which presents a stricken, worn-out version of '30s Hollywood Art Deco: scuffed floors, faded hallways, torn upholstery. There's plenty moreย  besides that: terrific dusty photography by Chung Chung-hoon, Park Chan-wook's usual cinematography, which has a sense of static grandeur before it climaxes in some blazing bright cherry reds, visually signifying the film's descent to hell; some terrific fight choreography that the film saves till the end; a typically dreamy, harshly droning Cliff Martinez score.. It also benefits from an excellent cast, led by an unreasonably, unnecessarily good Foster: her physical embodiment of the Nurse's highly efficient, effective fatigue is legitimately great acting where simply hamming it up would have been fine. It's her walk, more than anything: she's worked out a terrific clomping step that looks all at once tired and self-confident, the heavy walk of an old woman (and Foster has some terrific wrinkles on her face these days, leading to some marvelously evocative facial expressions) who knows every molecule of the space where she spends all her days and nights, and needn't think about her movements.

That alone is enough to make the Nurse a genuinely interesting lead character, even without the trite (though adequately-executed) sad backstory doled out for her in bits and pieces, but the great strength of Hotel Artemis is the the whole ensemble is pretty uniformly strong. Certain characters are just more interesting: the almost religious zeal with which Everest regards the Artemis allows Bautista to play both the comic relief and the movie's saddest character, and Waikiki's ambivalence towards his life of crime and his brother's role gives Brown the movie's only actual character arc, which he handles quite smoothly. Everybody has been cast to their strengths, though, and the result is a cast full of well-articulated caricatures. Good pulp characters in a good pulp setting doesn't give Hotel Artemis much in the way of originality or anything like that, an hour and a half of good pulp is sometimes the only thing you need, and if not summer, then when?




*This checks out.