Sleepless stinks of disrepute: generic title, mid-January release, no advance screenings. But it’s not like today’s Hollywood has a surplus of watchable B-pictures. A beat-for-beat remake of a relatively diverting French thriller called Sleepless Night, the film shifts the action from a nightclub in the Paris suburbs to a hotel casino off the Vegas strip and ramps up the sadism, but otherwise follows the same breathless, potentially nihilistic narrative. A seemingly dirty cop named Vincent (Jamie Foxx) rips off the wrong guys, who kidnap his teenage son and hold him for ransom in exchange for their missing coke, which they are supposed to deliver to a murderous crew of traffickers the same night—a dog-eat-dog situation made worse by the arrival of internal affairs investigator Bryant (Michelle Monaghan), who intends to catch Vincent red-handed. As to the question of whether Vincent is really that bad or just deep undercover in a corrupt unit, Sleepless never provides a satisfactory answer. It acts like it does, but it doesn’t. It’s too fucked up on its own implausibility.
One might assume that the bluffs, debts, and desperate high-stakes gambles of the plot would find some resonance in the setting—a casino, for Chrissakes—but like the original, the movie gives no sense of the layout of its main location. But it bests Sleepless Night in one respect: It isn’t filmed in sweaty-palmed handheld close-ups. Swiss-German director Baran Bo Odar scores a minor coup in getting Mihai Malaimare Jr., the cinematographer of The Master, to shoot the film. As in the Liam Neeson potboiler A Walk Among The Tombstones, Malaimare seems to have been brought on to make an exercise in generic pulp look like it was made by someone who gives a damn—to give it negative fill and negative space. His camerawork is sharply chiseled and angular, often dead-centered as it clings to the visual line of Vincent’s shoulders or the body of his dinged-up, olive-green ’68 Pontiac GTO. Some enterprising amateur editor could cut together a minute of nothing but stubbornly symmetrical Steadicam shots from this film, keeping pace with characters from behind as they cross hallways.
Pulp this archetypal has the potential for a sort of poetry of cynicism and doom, but what it needs to unlock it is a central figure, a tough guy with a suit and a J-frame revolver—a Lee Marvin type, an anachronism. Obviously, that isn’t Jamie Foxx; his Vincent is purely a plot driver, neither stone-cold enough nor enough of a screwup to merit the label of antihero. Odar—who used to be Maren Ade’s assistant director, because the European film industry is a strange place—can’t keep track of the characters, the time frame, or Vincent’s injuries. But these deficiencies (many of which come straight from the source material) keep the amoral steeplechase going, one harebrained ruse after another, hustling breathlessly from the main floor of the fictional Luxus Casino and the penthouse office of its in-over-his-head owner, Stan Rubino (Dermot Mulroney), to its service corridors, kitchens, and parking garage. It might not be Donald Westlake, but it does its thing: meaningless, nonstop violence and movement, enacted by a large cast of characters who are only looking out to survive into the next scene.