Saturday, 16 December 2017

Movie Review: Sleepless (2017)



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The plot: Las Vegas cop Vincent Downs (Jamie Foxx), after a botched undercover operation, discovers that his son Thomas (Octavius J. Johnson) has been kidnapped by casino owner Stanley Rubino (Dermot Mulroney). The release conditions are simple: Vincent has to return a delivery of drugs that he and his partner Sean Cass (T.I.) stole during the operation. As Vincent sets out to get his son back, Internal Affairs officers Bryant (Michelle Monaghan) and Dennison (David Harbour) are on his trail as part of a continuing investigation into corruption in the Vegas police force.





Foxx nails the crazed and flustered cop he’s given, and as the film stretches on and tasks him to be more intense, he certainly delivers. Hell, this more hard-edged side of him ultimately makes up for how this isn’t the charisma fountain Jamie Foxx we’re used to seeing. T.I. as his partner, on the other hand? The guy usually gets cast as gangstas and that area of experience shows in how uncomfortable he looks in the character’s skin. Johnson as T is given two tasks on-screen: Be held hostage or get thrown around in the action scenes. He does perfectly fine in that role, but it’s not as if it’s the most taxing character to bring to the screen.

Monaghan, while her character continues to say “fuck you” to due process of law, is at the best she’s been in years with this one. Her sheer intensity on-screen combined with an understanding of how to wield her character dimensions make for a very engaging performance, even outdoing Foxx in a particularly tense scene. David Harbour as her partner also gets to flex some more thrilling muscle, selling the action scenes like a pro while bringing buckets full of intimidation to his every moment on screen. Honestly, the biggest low points in the cast are with the two main villains. Scoot McNairy as the on-edge drug runner Rob Novak gets a couple moments to show that he’s not to be messed with, but both he and Mulroney end up being far less interesting than everyone else here. Hell, even Eli Everett’s minor role as a bathroom attendant left a bigger impression than either of the main bad guys.

The acting being as solid as it is turns out to be an even larger saving grace for the film than it should be, given how we’re dealing with an extremely clichéd story. Rescuing kidnapped family members, forced to work with the villain to get them back, maneuvering around the police as it’s unclear on who can be trusted; this is all very familiar stuff. I’ve repeatedly said in the past that originality should come in second place to competence, so retold stories aren’t the immediate problem. The problem comes in once it hits how to-the-letter these clichés run, to the point where the film doesn’t even bother hiding a good deal of them. And even then, the plot twists it tries to pull over the audience are embarrassingly obvious. Then again, trying to be one step ahead of the audience is a tough ask when the characters apparently keep three steps behind both the audience and common bleeding sense. It can get pretty ridiculous how much of the plot depends on these experienced police officers and career criminals making such amateur mistakes, up to and including the colossal mess-up in the opening scene that reveals Vincent’s identity to the enemy which sets the rest of the plot in motion. Because of all this, whenever the film tries to be dramatic or thrilling, it doesn’t have the pacing or the depth to pull it off.

What makes that statement feel even weirder is that, when it gets to the action scenes, this film can get rather fun. It keeps a decent variety to the type of action we get, from fist fights to gun fights to car chases to Venn diagrams covering all three, all of which benefits from director Baran bo Odar sticking to practical effects for a lot of this. When cars crash all over the place or Vincent throws down with the henchman with the caveman brow, it feels like actual impact has been made and the excitement sets in. Sure, some of it is hampered by DOP Mihai Mălaimare Jr. reusing 90-degree camera spins, but when things are kept stable, it works. It also gets pretty inventive in places, like Vincent fighting off goons in the casino kitchen or giving us one of the better indoor car scenes I can recall. Knowing how strictly a lot of action flicks stick to the formula, most of them rely on their set pieces to break from the pack. Well, while this doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, it certainly keeps things interesting, and even when the plot hits its lulls, it manages to stay engaging.

All in all, it may not be the most vital experience in the world but it’s most definitely serviceable. The actors bring a lot of simmering intensity to their underwritten roles, the action scenes benefit from an emphasis on tangible carnage as opposed to near-constant CGI, both of which end up compensating for the tried-and-tested action-thriller formula, complete with an abundance of cop flick clichés. If you’re in the mood for some popcorn action fluff, particularly something with Jamie Foxx involved, I’d say it’s worth checking out. This may be a mildly forgettable effort but I’m pretty positive that it will end up aging better than Baby Driver. At least rewatching this doesn’t involve looking at the face of a complete dumpster fire of a human being… yet. With all the allegations from this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone from this was included; what a fucking sad state we’re in.

It ranks higher than iBoy, which was a film mainly salvaged from its basic plot by a single brilliant performance. This, by mild contrast, is salvaged from its basic plot by an entire cast full of great performances. Solid acting can go a long way to making up for weak cinematic elements; it’s why I try and highlight the casts of all the films I review right at the start. However, as fun as this can be, it doesn’t quite hold up to the technical chops of Bushwick. Comparing the casts of both films is basically night and day, but in every other regard, it makes for a more competent production.

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