The listless, shoddy sort of remake where it feels like all of the characters have already seen the movie they’re in, “Sleepless” reduces one of the best action films of the 21st century into one of the most benign. Released in 2011, Frederic Jardin’s severely under-seen “Sleepless Night” is a French-language brawler with universal appeal — bruising, relentless, and blissfully frenetic, it remains a masterclass in how to layer cinematic mayhem so that every new punch lands where the last one left off.
Needless to say, a lot has been lost in translation. Directed by Baran bo Odar (“The Silence”) and designed to swindle money from starry-eyed January theatergoers who’ve been shut out of “Hidden Figures” or “La La Land” but might as well see something because they’ve already trekked to the multiplex and paid the babysitter for the night, this lifeless photocopy proves that American exceptionalism is officially a thing of the past.
Other than how it swaps an industrial European cityscape for the dusty neon environs of the Las Vegas Strip, the story remains largely the same (albeit it decentralized, stretched out, and padded with hokey nonsense). It opens with a shootout in the early morning hours, as two men crash into a car, kill the armed occupants inside, and steal the 24 kilos of cocaine that they had been escorting across town. The plot soon thickens, however, as assailants Vincent Downs (Foxx) and his partner in crime (played by the rapper T.I.) are revealed to be two of Nevada’s finest. They don’t know it yet, but these seemingly dirty cops are in for one hell of a night. A night during which it’s safe to assume that they won’t be getting very much sleep.
You see, those drugs they stole belonged to hotel owner Stanley Rubino (Dermot Mulroney, sleazy and completely absorbed in an amusing impression of Robert De Niro’s performance from “Casino”), and Rubino had in turn owed them to Novak (Scoot McNairy), the psychotic son of the state’s scariest mafioso. Everyone is petrified of the next person up on the ladder, and so no one is safe — not even Vincent’s teenage son, Thomas (Octavius J. Johnson), who’s snatched out of his dad’s car and held for ransom beneath Rubino’s casino.
But how is Vincent supposed to make things right when two of the women in his life are giving him such a hard time? Not only is his ex-wife (immortal Time Lord Gabrielle Union) constantly nagging him about disappearing for years at a time and making their only child a target for deranged killers (so needy!) he’s also under investigation from ball-busting internal affairs officer Jennifer Bryant (a slumming Michelle Monaghan), who has the uptight notion that cops shouldn’t be able to wantonly murder civilians and steal their drugs. She has a such a nose for corruption that she completely overlooks the most transparently evil character of them all (and by “all,” I mean “all of the transparently evil characters who have ever been written”). These people eventually converge at Rubino’s casino, the, uh, “Luxus,” leading to an hour of half-assed mayhem.
“Sleepless Night” has reflexively been summed up as “‘Die Hard’ in a nightclub,” an elevator pitch that only sounds dismissive until you see it. While the comparison derives from the fact that both films confine their action to a single location in which one man rampages through a dozen henchmen in order to save a loved one, the most crucial similarity between them is that they’re good — that they’re tightly coiled, cleverly plotted, and deeply satisfying examples of what their genre can accomplish.
So while it’s not in and of itself a problem that “Sleepless” deviates from its source material (fidelity should never be a measure of a remake’s quality), it’s nevertheless telling that this version of the story bears absolutely no resemblance to “Die Hard.” The action is incoherent — the notorious kitchen fight from the original is now a choppy slap-fest — the plotting is far too convoluted for a story about a man trying to rescue his son from a refrigerator, and the Vegas setting is reduced to mere window dressing, Odar exploring approximately zero of the possibilities offered by his unique location.
Or his leading actor. Foxx has had an uneven career, but his charisma is undeniable, and “Miami Vice” proved that the man knows how to play an undercover cop. But Vincent is barely there. Hobbled for most of the movie by a bleeding puncture wound in his belly, the character is graced with the arc of a gunshot, moving through a labyrinthine network of good and evil along a mindlessly straight line. He’s just as dull in the film’s hilariously hokey climax as he is in its sloppy opening sequence.
If “Sleepless” feels like the microwaved leftovers of a dish that was designed to be swallowed whole, Foxx is the frozen part in the middle, the bite that makes you regret that someone tried to heat this up in the first place. Sure enough, the film’s sad attempt at setting up a sequel is enough to leave you begging for an action movie that takes the time to start from scratch.
“Sleepless” is in theaters now.