The 2011 French/Belgian/Luxembourgian thriller Sleepless Night arrived in theaters like a Summa Cum Laude graduate from the Luc Besson School of Eurotrash Action Filmmaking — slick, lean, and relentless from the word “go.” On a story level, however, it’s not a work of astounding innovation so much as a series of sound justifications for beefy, goateed, and largely interchangeable men to go after each other. Even the title is essentially meaningless, other than to inform the viewer that the action will take place over one night and there will be no Warhol-esque scenes of people sleeping. What sets director Frédéric Jardin’s film apart is all in the execution, topped by a close-quarters brawl into a restaurant kitchen that uses every pot, utensil, and drawer in sight.
The second-rate Americanization, Sleepless, tightens up the title — though, spoiler alert, it still takes place at night — but gets flabbier in every department, adding new entanglements, expanding a couple of pivotal roles, and improvising a hectic finale when it finally runs out of plot. The murkiness gums up the works needlessly, but both the original film and the remake ultimately live or die less on what they do than how they do it. And the side-by-side comparison proves overwhelmingly unfavorable to the remake, which stages most of its big set pieces in a dark casino and an even darker parking garage below, so it’s often hard to tell who’s doing what to who and where they are in relation to each other. Without these basic nuts-and-bolts, the whole structure collapses.
The trouble begins from the very first sequence. Sleepless Night opens with an audacious daytime heist that involves squealing sports cars, heavily armed thieves and henchmen, and a generous bag of cocaine. Sleepless tries to replicate the same sequence at night, but Swiss director Baran bo Odar keeps cutting back and forth from helicopter shots of Las Vegas off the strip and bungle of action on the ground where the thieves’ identities are obscured — first by masks and then by dark — and there’s no telling what happened until the chaos is over. For Jamie Foxx, playing an undercover cop who’s snuffing out police corruption, the introduction is not exactly Orson Welles in The Third Man.
Foxx stars as Vincent Downs, an internal affairs officer who’s sacrificed his marriage to a hospital nurse (Gabrielle Union) and his relationship with his son Cortez (Markell Watson) to bring down dirty cops with drug ties, including his partner, played by T.I. Vincent goes along on the cocaine heist, but they wind up stealing cocaine from the wrong men, including a crooked casino manager (Dermot Mulroney) and a kingpin (Scoot McNairy) who runs a family drug outfit. (In fidelity to the original, Foxx, Mulroney, McNairy, and at least two henchmen all have goatees.)
To secure the return of their product, the dealers kidnap Cortez as collateral, but Vincent runs into problems tracking down the bag of cocaine. In the meantime, he faces intense scrutiny from IA officer Jennifer Bryant (Michelle Monaghan), who suspects he was behind the heist and links him to a plague of corruption in the Las Vegas Police Department. All parties eventually clash at the fabulous Luxum casino, which is what the Luxor would looks like if it were located off the interstate in Gary, Indiana.
Of the cast, only McNairy gets to have much fun as a colorfully sadistic monster who, at one point, threatens one man by passing him a jewelry box containing the tongue of another. (He wants him to keep the box as a reminder, as if anyone could ever forget.) Monaghan and Union get an upgrade on the thankless female roles in the original, but in Union’s case, that involves moving her from behind a hospital desk and into the fray at the most dramatically convenient time. Mostly, everyone goes dutifully through the motions, including Foxx, whose level of investment in the project is neutral at best.
In the absence of any meaningful themes or genuine emotional stakes, a film like Sleepless (and its source) has to have enough technique to stand apart the slushpile of other mid-budgeted actioners. And so its failure falls chiefly on Odar, who built his reputation on the German thrillers The Silence and Who Am I? (the latter due for its own Americanization), but simply doesn’t have the chops to make Sleepless that exciting. When it comes time to recreate the big kitchen throwdown, the combatants emerge with only a minor dusting of flour on their goatees.