‘Sleepless’ is all things good about “just another genre entry”

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One of the humble pleasures found at the cinema is the dad-action film. This microgenre is ruled by Liam Neeson who cemented his role as the particularly skilled patriarch of the Taken series. But not just Taken, Taken 2, or Taken 3, there’s also Non-Stop, The Grey, Unknown, A Walk Among The Tombstones and Run All Night.

Now, Jamie Foxx is taking a run at the tall handsome irishman’s throne with Sleepless. It’s the story of a crooked cop out to save his kidnapped son by any means necessary. By and large it works for what it is. How’s that for a poster quote, “as advertised.”

The title gives you a hint at what’s going on, it takes place over the course of, by my rough estimate, 32 hours. An early morning heist gone bad, the next day of the police scrambling trying to figure it out and a night of guns, knives and other nice things in the confines of a vegas casino.

It’s a full movie that actually takes its time. This movie allows a rare kind of proper set up, it’s almost jarring. When the first real hand to hand fight scene hits, you’ll feel a little relief, this is an action movie after all.

Not only does this film hang comparably with the impressive Neeson oeuvre (he’s not in it but the cast is great nonetheless), it’s also got what makes that collection so special. Sleepless has a personality and place. Think back to the various Neesons, there’s the plane one, the wolf punching one, the Ed Harris and Catholics one, the 90s noir, the amnesia one. For what hopefully will be the start of a long late career action revival, this is Foxx’s Vegas Die Hard one.

The confining single location for most of the action warrants a comparison to the first Die Hard though not as crisply plotted, there’s a lot more players here and the police do not just stand around. The criss crossing character motivations are nuanced as well. It’s not as clear cut as “shoot the german guy out the window.”

You’ll be glad that the filmmakers didn’t kowtow to the old mothers at the MPAA. For what could have been a PG-13 star power retread of cut aways and red smoke, you’ll see all sorts of creativity here. A scene of baseball torture and a handsy, pressure cooker like performance by Scoot McNairy flavor the festivities. There are cars, car crashes. There is a parking garage. There is a weapons trunk. Gas? Is there really a gas attack in this movie??? Yes, and more.

They don’t let David Harbour, Michelle Monaghan, or even Gabrielle Union go to waste. Pretty much everybody fights or shoots at everybody else. They cover their bases spreading the action around to the whole cast but never in a way that feels like it betrays the character motivations that drive this whole thing. There is a father and son team up fight that plays well when on its face that idea should really be ridiculous.

Dermot Mulroney’s character, the casino owner, doesn’t get much action but for good reason. In the dance of character meetings leading up to all hell breaking loose they subvert our expectations for who a Vegas big bad looks and acts like.
If you enjoyed this film enough to want another go round with the tension and stakes even higher, well they left the door open. It’s a door I’ll want to go through if it should ever appear.

Sleepless is now playing nationwide.

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