Sunday, 15 July 2018

Hotel Artemis; turns out the future is just like the past thought it would be

Jodie Foster’s last day out was Elysium, which is one of those “has it really been that long?” moments. When you see her first appearance, you think maybe it’s been even longer, since she’s aged up about 20 years so that she can play a 70 year old nurse by appointment to the mafia. She’s wonderfully convincing as a spry old lady with bad knees, because she’s Jodie Foster, so of course she is, but I found myself thinking that she’d been sitting on this property since she was in college and just got tired of waiting to be the actual age to play the main role.

Because Hotel Artemis is straight out of the 80s, in the best possible way. Mostly because it’s a simple little movie which does exactly what it came to do in a nice lean, cheap, 90 minutes and then bows out with a coy “We hope you enjoyed your stay and look forward to seeing you again.” But also because it’s got a vision of 2028 that seems straight out of my teens, when it was a given that the world would have gone to hell in a handbasket by the time I was middle-aged. Every American city would be an urban wasteland ruled by an uneasy mixture of criminal warlords and capitalist goon squads taking turns to loot the poor of all the stuff they didn’t have. It would always be dark, and raining, and people would just live off pollution and drugs. Assuming, of course, that the world didn’t go straight to the apocalypse with a full on nuclear exchange which would leave everyone living on dogfood until their faces melted off from mutations.

The apocalypse duly didn’t arrive, and for a while there, Hollywood’s predictions for the year 2028 were looking increasingly dumb. Fortunately for the credibility of 1980s scriptwriters and unfortunately for just about everything else, those visions are starting to look positively perky, and Hotel Artemis sits pretty comfortably with our darkest imaginings of what comes next.

Back in the 1980s, movies weren’t all that good, but they were - for better or worse - whatever the hell they set out to be. They didn’t need to fit into a franchise or please a four quadrant audience, or pass focus groups. You gave the crew some money, and you hoped for the best. You didn’t often get it, but there wasn’t much money on the line and it’s not like any of us had the distractions we have now; even bad movies could find an audience. 

And for a brief 90 minutes, we’re back in those days. Hotel Artemis is a movie about a bad Wednesday night in a shady hotel in the middle of a riot. It’s not really a hotel; it’s a hospital for crooks. Staff two; Jody Foster’s careworn drunken nurse, and Dave Bautista’s gruff medical orderly. Every time I see Bautista in something new, I appreciate how little movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and Spectre use his abilities. The guy is not just a huge slab of muscle with a knack for hamming; he can act. At least well enough for something like this, anyhow. And he’s charming; in a movie largely populated by baddies, you’re rooting for Jodie and Dave to make it. And for Sofia Boutella to kill everything she meets. Good news on that front; she does. And it turns out that I was right to hold out for a movie where they would let her talk; she’s not half bad. Not that anyone came for that; we came to see if she could wipe out half of LA in red ball gown. No, not if, how

So Sterling Brown and his sidekicks show up after a bank robbery goes wrong (more thought seems to have gone into the masks than the plan) and before long everything is falling to pieces in Jody Foster’s carefully cloistered world. The Hotel Artemis has rules, and they all get broken by the time the night is done. This would have been enough to be getting on with, but at no extra charge to the audience, we get Jeff Goldblum’s fey crimelord and Zachary Quinto as his useless son and heir. For a woman who hates to multi-task, the Nurse does a pretty good job of keeping all the balls in the air, until they turn into grenades and the pins come out all at once.

And that’s all it’s there to do. Small cast, confined space, everything going wrong in the best possible way. Welcome back 80s. I’ve missed you.

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