Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 23, 2017 3:39 pm 
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Non-stop action, but not non-stop enough

The consensus is that this movie is neither good nor bad enough. It could have been kinky or have weird characters, but it isn't and hasn't. It might have dwelt on its relationships - cop rivalries and pressures in a gangland family, but doesn't. It might have been dark and stylish like Mann's great Collateral, where the star here, Jamie Foxx, shone, and there were images of Los Angeles by night with a shimmering beauty. It tries for that, with a classy cinematographer, Mihai Malaimare Jr. (who's worked for Coppola and P.T. Anderson), but the dark beauty of L.A. (and here, Vegas) isn't sustained - apart from some unvarying panoramic shots. In fact the overall look of Sleepless is blue-gray and murky, with action to match.

If only Sleepless were really good at the one thing it does, that it gets from its French genre source - fast, violent, notstop action. But its fights stumble and bore us, and its plot is utterly confusing and lost in detail. What we have to look at are a lot of hand-to-hand battles and shoot-outs that are too much alike.

Sleepless starts out fast, loud, violent and messy and it continues that way, with a drug theft that leads to nagging consequences involving crooked cops and the mob. LA cop Vincent Downes (Jamie Foxx) and his partner Sean Cass (Clifford Joseph Harris Jr., rapper T.I.) interrupt an illegal drug shipment, and steal the drugs. They come away with a hefty portmanteau-sized bag of cocaine. Is this purely the action of crooked cops, or something trickier? It's never clear, signalling a fundamental clumsiness in the writing and direction. Clearly, it's more than they'd banked on and it was on its way to Novak (Scott McNairy), son of a powerful drug lord, who just bought it from casino owner Stanley Rubino (Dermot Mulroney), and Rubino finds out Vince has it and sets out to get it back from him.

To this end Rubino has Vince's son Thomas (Octavius J. Johnson) kidnapped while Vince is driving the boy to soccer practice from the house of his ex-wife Dena (Gabrielle Union). Vince gets a serious stomach wound in his unsuccessful fight to hold onto his son, and goes on a chase to get him back that will fill up the rest of the movie - and require a lot of changes of bandages and grimaces of pain, while the crooks fight relentlessly to get the drugs.

The action winds up at Rubino's casino, with Thomas tossed back and forth, and the drug stash shifted around.

Before the kidnapping has happened, back at HQ we have met Vince's LAPD colleague Jennifer Bryant (Michelle Monaghan), of Internal Affairs, who comes looking for the drugs too. Just out of a fracas herself, Jennifer provides a sort of alternate and parallel line of action. She and Vince share and josh about scars on their cheek: they'll get a lot more battered as time goes on. In fact the movie is about the way they survive, under extreme pressure, for a little bookend verbal sparring at the end, back at HQ, again, hinting of a sequel that we really won't want to watch, unless it's a whole lot better than this.

In the end we're stuck with wondering how a man even with his adrenaline pumping non-stop can perform so many feats of strength and engage in so many fierce (and unvarying) hand-to-hand battles with a serious stomach wound inflicted early in the action.

This movie is based on Frédéric Jardin's 2011 French film Nuit blanche ("Sleepless Night"), almost beat by beat, they say who've seen or can remember the original. But it's not French, and we know from Guillaume Canet's Tell No One and numerous films since that the French can do "polars d'action," crime thrillers à l'américaine, with more tense spirit and focus now than, too often, we ourselves can muster. David Ehrlich specifically says in his review in Indiewire that Nuit blanche is exactly what Sleepless isn't: tightly edited, fiercely kinetic. Sleepless feels like being hit over and over lacadaisically with a blunt instrument.

Something may or may not have been lost in translation, but as the images of Sleepless are murky, so is the plot. Because though we know some of the other cops, probably many, are bad, we never know for sure if Vince is dirty or clean. And the way the coke gets moved around from storage space over a toilet to a spa locker and different people keep claiming it, well, it's just ridiculous. And toward the end somebody shows up at the casino whose involvement was so absurd even what may have been not a very critical audience started to titter. So this is one to avoid, and is not a great opportunity for its cast, and for Mulroney, a humiliating role. At least the run time is compact; but clumsy construction never doth run smooth.

Sleepless, 93 mins., released 13 Jan. 2017 in the US. Its critical reception has been generally negative: Metacritic rating 32%.

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