Review: ‘Sleepless’ Isn’t a Total Yawner

‘Sleepless’ Isn’t a Total Yawner

Sleepless

Review by Daniel Rester

For a cops-versus-bad-guys action film released in the Hollywood dumping pit of January, Sleepless isn’t the complete stink pile it could have been. That’s not to say it’s a high-octane thrill ride, but rather more of a decent Michael Mann film wannabee.

The main cop here is Vincent Downs, played with physical skill by Jamie Foxx. Downs is undercover tracking cocaine dealings between drug lord Rob Novak (Scoot McNairy) and Vegas casino owner Stanley Rubino (Dermot Mulroney); the dealings also happen to involve Downs’ partner and friend Sean Cass (rapper-turned-actor Clifford “T.I.” Harris). Things get extra messy when Downs’ son Thomas (Octavius J. Johnson) gets kidnapped and internal affairs officers Jennifer Bryant (Michelle Monaghan) and Doug Dennison (David Harbour) start to sniff out the situation.

If you’re looking for something completely fresh and surprising from a crime thriller then, well, Sleepless isn’t the film for you. The movie — written by Andrea Berloff and directed by Baran bo Odar — rides on B-grade formulas from start to finish in its brisk 95 minutes. To Berloff’s credit, the story does have a couple of unexpected turns. However, the film’s “big surprises” and double-crosses aren’t surprising at all if you’re familiar with the genre. One would expect the screenplay to have a bit more complexity to it given that Berloff’s writing credits include World Trade Center (2006) and Straight Outta Compton (2015). Instead the writing is one of the weaker aspects of Sleepless — with stock characters and dialogue filling out most of the proceedings.

Odar does a dependable job behind the camera. The director keeps things moving quickly so that even when the next steps are predictable they at least come fast and furious. He and the reliable cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. (who shot The Master (2012)) don’t give much new flavor to the look of the Vegas settings, but everything still looks polished and the action is usually staged and cut fairly well. A couple of over-the-top but fun moments stand out well: one involving a swimming pool fist fight, another involving a night club and a bottle.

The performances in Sleepless range from blah to serviceable to pretty good. Foxx is always watchable no matter the material. He has an effortless intriguing quality about him in everything, and he is able to show off some muscles in the fight scenes here. Monaghan is in a similar boat as Foxx, while Gabrielle Union — as Downs’ ex-wife — has her talent wasted by being in a few throwaway worrying-on-the-phone scenes. McNairy, an underrated actor, comes across best as Novak in a performance that nearly inches into being overboard but remains grounded enough in its ridiculous character villainy; he has some fun moments involving a golf club and another with gas grenades.

Sleepless is a remake of a well-regarded French thriller called Sleepless Night (2011). I haven’t seen the original, so I can’t compare the two. But I can only imagine that all of the talented people involved here signed on to do this because of the original being so good and Berloff penning this one; either that or it was a quick paycheck. Sleepless is a fast-paced bit of disposable escapism.

My Grade: B- (on an F to A+ scale).

MPAA Rating: R (for strong violence and language throughout).

Written by
Daniel Rester is one of the administrators and lead writers on the We Live Film portion of We Live Entertainment. He is a Southern Oregon University alumnus and has a Bachelor of Science degree with a double major in Communication (Film, Television, and Convergent Media) and Emerging Media and Digital Arts. He has been involved with writing and directing shorts for years, and even wrote and directed a feature-length film for his capstone. Daniel also won 2nd place in the Feature Screenplay Competition in the 2015 Oregon Film Awards for his screenplay "Emma Was Here."

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