‘Sleepless’ is an uneven crime thriller
“Sleepless” is the latest in a long line of forgettable action movies that tries to cash in on the audience “Taken” catered to nine years ago — and it is the latest to fail to reach those heights. It copies that film’s premise almost word for word, centering on a man with a particular set of skills who has to use said skills to save his family, but the film forgets the details that made “Taken” its millions. Whenever it manages to differentiate itself and rise above the crowd, it’s actually good, but for the most part, it is as uneven and bland as the rest of them.
Jamie Foxx (“The Amazing Spider-Man 2”) leads a cast that includes Michelle Monaghan (“Patriot’s Day”) and David Harbour (“Stranger Things”), and of those three, Foxx is unfortunately the weak link. At the beginning of the film, he comes off as dangerously close to unlikeable, and while that rectifies itself as the plot gains momentum, he is as uneven as the rest of the movie. One scene in particular stands out, as Foxx reacts to what should be a devastating emotional development the way some people react to stubbing their toe.
Monaghan and Harbour, on the other hand, are both the best parts of the movie. As a driven pair of police detectives, they share a believable chemistry that communicates their partnership easily, and they even manage to get a few laughs in among the fist fights. On that note, “Sleepless” is funny when it wants to be, with a number of asides featuring increasingly irritated employees adding a good deal of humor.
The villains of the feature — figures whose roles in vice are unclear — aren’t anything special, mostly a hodgepodge of genre clichés that are generally pretty boring for how much time is put into them. Of the two, Scoot McNairy (“Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice”) makes something of an impression as a psychopath who has the odd habit of intimidating and/or torturing people with sporting equipment. It’s not much, but it’s something. Dermot Mulroney (“Insidious: Chapter 3”) gets more screen time, but as the owner of the casino where most of the film takes place, he’s neither intimidating nor entertaining and ends up feeling like an extra in a movie where he is ostensibly one of the main antagonists.
For the first half, “Sleepless” seems to fancy itself a crime thriller more than a straight-forward action movie, but one where, somewhere along the way, someone forgot to add thrills. It lacks the energy to be impactful. When the second half finally rolls around and fisticuffs start spontaneously breaking out, they’re actually not bad. The fighting is choreographed well and Swiss director Baran bo Odar (“Who Am I—No System is Safe”) shoots it capably. The differing settings are used to great advantage; a pair of melees taking place in a spa and a hotel room are particularly memorable. It lacks the slick editing and sound design that makes good action scenes like the ones on display great, but it’s promising work from a director in his English debut.
January films, and January action films in particular, have a well-deserved reputation for being some the worst the industry has to offer. “Sleepless” manages to avoid this, though only by the skin of its teeth. It’s not bad, but it’s certainly not good either. The boring leads and villains may be annoying flaws that cause the film to drag in spots, but the supporting protagonists, humor and action balance it out. It’s a mostly forgettable yet somewhat entertaining action flick.