Hey, what’s this? Winter release, no advance screenings, generic one-word title, a gracefully-aging star at the helm? This is a dad-to-the-rescue movie! And an adaptation, no less. It’s a remake of the diverting French thriller Sleepless Night, which was set in a Parisian nightclub. Sleepless, which stars Jamie Foxx as the rampaging parent and Octavius J. Johnson as his misplaced offspring, transfers the action to a hotel casino off the Vegas strip, where the owner, Stanley Rubino (Dermot Mulroney), sweetens his high-rolling clientele with party favours from a local crime boss (Scoot McNairy).
Foxx plays Vincent Downs, an L.A. homicide detective who may or may not be crooked. The movie can’t seem to make up its mind at first. Either way, he and his partner (T.I.) steal 25 kilos of cocaine from Rubino, and in retaliation Rubino steals Downs’ morose teenage son. Downs has an ex-wife played by Gabrielle Union, who’s good but underutilized, and does things like call up during firefights to say that the kid’s school football team are wondering why he didn’t turn up to practice.
This is one of those movies that needs to be better – or worse, even. As it stands, it doesn’t make much of an impression. What follows after an opening car chase and shootout, and a period of explicatory downtime (Vincent is always at work, his ex-wife is getting remarried, his son is pissed off), is essentially another variant of the good old Die Hard-style single-location shenanigans. (See also: Dredd, and The Raid: Redemption.) Vince tries to return the drugs, but his efforts are constantly being thwarted by a dogged internal affairs agent (Michelle Monaghan) and her partner (David Harbour, whose presence alone should come with a spoiler warning). He schlepps around the grounds of the hotel and casino getting into bother, looking for his boy, finding him, getting into more bother, all while trying to knit together the conspiratorial double-crossing plot threads.
Pretty much everything you expect Sleepless to contain is present and correct. There are close-quarters fist-fights – including a couple of fun, heavily improvised ones staged in a kitchen and a jacuzzi room, respectively – and shootouts, chases, and plot twists that are telegraphed well in advance but executed competently enough that they provide a nice jolt in the right direction whenever the movie starts to sag. It’s brisk, lean, and mostly enjoyable.
But it’s also kind of disappointing. Every compliment you can throw at it has to come with some kind of qualifying suffix – I think “sometimes” is the best one. It’s funny sometimes, exciting sometimes, interesting sometimes. But it’s mostly rote. The set-pieces are familiar, the characters have minimal credibility, and the performances are workmanlike but lack flair or intensity. Foxx is the kind of actor who has always reflected a star’s light better than he casts his own. He’s more suited opposite a bolder, less actorly talent, like Tom Cruise in Michael Mann’s Collateral, another murky night-time thriller set during one long Los Angeles night. Sleepless asks him to grumble and glower, and he does that just fine, but it never provides him a backboard to bounce his skills against. Monaghan is the closest thing, and she’s fine too, but Andrea Berloff’s screenplay doesn’t give her enough to act. Both characters start the film with matching cuts on their cheekbones. Their development is found entirely in how much bloodier they get.
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