January, we meet again. The cornerstone of shelved projects and blatant mediocrity weighs its presence every year for movies that release throughout the aforementioned month. When you put the awards contender theater expansions aside, there’s rarely a “real” January movie that stands out as legitimately good. If you by any chance thought Sleepless would break the cold streak, you best keep warming up for what February has to offer.
A remake of the 2011 French thriller Sleepless Night, Jamie Foxx plays Vincent Downs, a Las Vegas police detective who works deep undercover in the city’s criminal underworld. One day after he and his partner steal a large amount of cocaine, they’re targeted by a drug lord who needs the drugs for an impending shipment to a Russian crime organization. In order to push Downs to amend his screwup, his son is kidnapped and held for ransom until he returns the drugs. The job doesn’t come easy for him though as a pair of Internal Affairs detectives (Michelle Monaghan and David Harbour) are hot on the heels of Downs for his criminal activity.
Sleepless is the epitome of Cop Movie 101 filmmaking, and it shamelessly cruises on autopilot from beginning to end. It starts with the fact that it was filmed back in summer 2015, and wasn’t screened in advance for critics. The movie’s many flaws begin with Andrea Berloff’s script, which is chockfull of stock characters and simplistic dialogue that a first-year film school student could easily write better. It’s a shame that this comes after her shared Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination for Straight Outta Compton, in addition to her contributions on last year’s overlooked Mel Gibson action-thriller, Blood Father. Normally I’d be willing to forgive bad writing if the movie itself is halfway entertaining, and Sleepless rarely is.
From an actor’s standpoint, this is a movie that screams the word “paycheck,” because every actor speaks in a monotone, low volume speech that undermines any sense of thrill to be had. Jamie Foxx never comes off as the badass undercover cop he’s suppose to be, and Michelle Monaghan is haphazardly consistent in portraying the cunning nature of her IA detective character. As the main villain, Scoot McNairy looks more threatening than he actually acts the part as he speaks in that same aforementioned tone throughout.
The worst aspect about Sleepless though is how it squanders the potential of its Las Vegas setting. For a city that thrives on vice and glitz on a daily basis, there should be considerable excitement both in the action and overall directing style. The neon-lit streets and casino interiors pop with color schemes that can’t be found in many other places around the world. However, director Baran bo Odar exhibits a miniscule amount of interest in achieving any of those goals, and rather settles on a construct that’s bereft of energy to the point that the overused helicopter shots of The Strip are the most interesting to look at. Bo Odar’s carelessness doesn’t come close to ending there. The scene where Jamie Foxx gets a phone call from one of the villains of his kidnapped son’s whereabouts, the camera is framed entirely on his face but doesn’t stop moving to the point that the racking focus goes out of sync. How that snippet wasn’t noticed in the editing room, I have no idea.
Most January movies have a sameness that we’ve essentially had to be accustomed to. Sleepless though is one that angered me. It features several well-established actors that are in it only for the money, in addition to a director that takes no advantage of trying to stamp his name in the American industry. It’s common for one or more January-released movies to appear on a worst of the year list, and Sleepless will very likely earn one of those spots at 2017’s end.