04th May2017

‘Sleepless’ Review

by Rupert Harvey

Stars: Jamie Foxx, Michelle Monaghan, Scoot McNairy, David Harbour, Dermot Mulroney | Written by Andrea Berloff | Directed by Baran bo Odar


The English-language debut of Swiss director Baran bo Odar delivers nothing of what we want, namely: half-decent action, interesting characters, witty writing, or surprising plot deviations.

Jamie Foxx plays Vegas cop Vincent Downs, whom we first meet in the throes of a violent robbery. He’s stealing a whole bunch of cocaine, which belongs to a casino owner named Rubino (Dermot Mulroney). Problem is, Rubino himself owes it to fearsome gangster Novak (Scoot McNairy), who in turn is in thrall to his megalomaniac father.

After his son is kidnapped by Rubino’s thugs, Downs tries to return the drugs. But he is confounded by Internal Affairs partners Bryant (Michelle Monaghan) and Dennison (David Harbour); suspecting corruption, they step in to disrupt the deal. But in doing so they instigate a sleepless night of fighting, shooting and car chases, as the gangsters try to secure the drugs, and Downs attempts to rescue his son from the deadly casino.

The first thing that may strike you about that synopsis isn’t the bog standard plot but the great cast. Quite what possessed such an ensemble to get involved with the project is a mystery. Severely testing the criteria for what constitutes a cinema-level movie (it has straight-to-VOD written all over it), Sleepless is another action thriller focusing on a middle-aged antihero driven by revenge, except it’s amateurishly constructed and in desperate need of a USP.

Perhaps that selling point could have been the Las Vegas setting, but the City of Sin is just window dressing. Rubino’s casino could be a nightclub anywhere, and Vegas is merely a cityscape to complement Michael Kamm’s absurdly foreboding music, which seems intent on convincing us that we’re watching a Christopher Nolan movie. Relentless barp-barp.

Monaghan, too often wasted as a simpering pixie, is channelling her best Sandra Bullock here, but it’s to no avail. Foxx does his soft-spoken thing, which doesn’t ring true, given that he’s meant to be an enraged father on the warpath. Harbour is solid as always, even if he seems to be in on a joke no one else is. McNairy, usually so reliable, is horribly miscast and risibly unthreatening – although, to be fair, this is partly because he’s cast as an unusually patient and mild-mannered psychopath.

The action scenes are boring, and mostly comprised of confusingly-edited fistfights. And boy, the first one is a long time coming – maybe 40 minutes in. Worse, it’s hand-to-hand combat in a restaurant kitchen, which makes for an embarrassing comparison with The Raid 2’s classic showdown.

Character motivations consistently baffle. There’s a ridiculous lack of professionalism from Bryant and Dennison, who, when they’re not putting innocent lives in danger by blindly disrupting major drug deals in crowded public places, spend half the movie standing on the club balcony, craning their necks to look for suspects. It’s so bad it’s almost funny. Sadly, they’re working with an utterly humourless script. There is the basis here for some Shane Black-style wisecracking, or at least The Heat-level farce. But it seems bo Odar is aiming for Michael Mann straight-facedness.

We have here a film in which a guy can trick hardened criminals into thinking 25 bags of flour are filled with cocaine. Anything can happen! But so little actually does. The one major twist is so obvious that the character in question might as well have a neon “SHADY” sign above their head. In fact, the most surprising plot point is the ending, where the film – astonishingly – dares to open itself up for a sequel. As if we can condone any more of this torture.

The screenplay is a particular disappointment when you consider that it’s an adaptation from Andrea Berloff, who also co-penned the Oscar-nominated Straight Outta Compton and the brilliantly brutal, soulful Blood Father.

Sleepless, though, is pointless, relying entirely on story beats and clichés lifted from a range of mediocre thrillers. Its marketing may lean toward the audience of Taken, but it doesn’t even come close to a mid-ranger like Safe. At 90 minutes it feels like a slog, and there’s a ton of better stuff out there – most of which did the honourable thing and skipped the big screen entirely.

Sleepless is out in cinemas on 5th May.


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