The compulsive gambler mentality that runs throughout Hollywood has all but killed off the R-rated mid-budget action flick. Once a staple of the cinema, it has become increasingly hard to find a straightforward piece of action cinema with no illusions about being a franchise starter. While it certainly isn’t a game changer, the new action movie from Swiss director Baran bo Odar, Sleepless, provides enough fisticuffs and gunfire exchanges delivered at a brisk pace that it stands out as piece of forgettable fun in the cinematic wasteland known as January. Sleepless is simply a B-movie that works more often than not, and its deficiencies don’t become distracting until its barreling towards its climax.
Among the sparkling lights of Las Vegas, corruption runs deep within the police department. Officer Vincent Downs (Jamie Foxx) and Sean Cass (T.I.) are among the corrupt officers, having just pulled a daring heist to secure 25 kilos of cocaine. Vincent’s life is an uneven spot at present. His wife Dena (Gabrielle Union) is about to move on from their fractured relationship and his son Thomas (Octavius J. Johnson) has had his fill with broken promises. Meanwhile, internal affairs agent Jennifer Bryant (Michelle Monaghan) has been working tirelessly to expose the rampant corruption, running into nothing but dead ends with her partner Doug Dennison (David Harbour). Jennifer gets the whiff of corruption from Vincent and becomes determined to take him down. Everything gets further complicated when Thomas is abducted by the goons working for casino boss Stanley Rubino (Dermot Mulroney), whom Vincent robbed of his drug shipment, and the goons stab Vincent in his side. Vincent has a few hours to return the stolen contraband to Rubino so he can complete a transaction with notorious criminal Rob Novak (Scoot McNairy). But over the course of a long and violent evening, few things go according to plan.
What works best in Sleepless is the film’s swift efficiency. In adapting the screenplay of the French thriller Nuit blanche (Sleepless Night), screenwriter Andrea Berloff wastes little time in establishing all of the film’s central characters, their motivations, and the various obstacles they’ll face throughout the film’s brisk 95-minute running time. It’s not until the film comes barreling towards its hectic climax that the film is burdened with a cheesy action tropes and fairly implausible outcomes, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not pretty entertaining throughout and much of that credit goes to the no nonsense screenplay.
The action of Sleepless isn’t the best that you’ll see on the screen as director Baran bo Odar employs a bit of a chaotic style in capturing the gunfights, fisticuffs, and car chases that happen in the seedy underbelly of Las Vegas. It’s not an incomprehensible mishmash of images like, say, Taken 3, but it’s not exactly a visceral thrill ride. All the tension that arises in the action scenes stems from the fact that the script is so concise in establishing each of the characters wants, placing all these pieces in place for a showdown.
Of the two leads in Sleepless, Jamie Foxx and Michelle Monaghan work incredibly well together and each delivers a pretty badass performance. Foxx’s character is vulnerably physically and emotionally, which adds a level of tension to the film that wouldn’t exist had his character been a generic superman routinely extinguishing baddies with ease. As Vincent Downs, Foxx is bleeding from the start of the action and his weakness makes for some fairly engaging fight scenes. But the real badass of Sleepless is Michelle Monaghan’s Jennifer Bryant. She’s a character that is driven yet has her own sense of vulnerability in the form of doubt about her abilities following an altercation that took place prior to the events of the movie. Monaghan is just as a capable as her male counterparts in throwing a punch and blasting off bullets, and it’s great to see this versatile actress in a role that isn’t simply concerned housewife (*cough* Patriot’s Day!).
If you’re not in the market for a lean, mean action flick that is a modest throwback to efficient action fare of the ‘80s, there’s nothing within Sleepless for you. But for those of us who like some quick, no nonsense ass-kicking action, Sleepless will provide the simplest thrills and entertainment. This isn’t an action movie that will reinvent the genre, instead it simply doesn’t mess up its simple premise and doesn’t waste the viewer’s time with needless backstory and tangents. In the cinematic wasteland that is January, you could do a whole lot worse than Sleepless.
A modestly entertaining action throwback, Sleepless works because of a tight script that establishes its various characters and moves its action forward at a brisk, fun pace.