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January 11, 2017

Sleepless in Sin City

Jamie Foxx brings the pain in the remake of a very successful French action film. Blink and you might miss it.

Frédéric Jardin’s 2011 Nuit Blanche (released in the U.S. as Sleepless Night) was a highly effective film that managed to pull off a difficult bit of genre trickery, as an action thriller whose action was conceived and staged, by the director’s own admission to appeal to people who don’t like action movies. If unsuccessful, this kind of resistance to the very thing that makes a genre what it is, the essence of its appeal, leads to hardcore fans feeling insulted and put off and non-fans being neither willing nor able to tell the difference from the real thing. But Jardin pulled Sleepless Night off, and elegantly. Almost immediately, the rights were bought for an American remake, and a few sleepless years later, Sleepless with Jamie Foxx in Vegas and what appears to be (though trailers lie) copious amounts of ownage is coming out this Friday.

I’m greatly looking forward to Sleepless, possessed as it is of a fabulous cast (T.I., Young Jeezy, Michelle Monaghan, Scoot McNairy; I’m pretty sure David Harbour and Dermot Mulroney are in this due to SAG regulations mandating that a cop movie must have one or both) and the basic premise of the original (a compromised cop has to rescue his son from gangsters). What’s unclear is whether the remake is going to preserve the central thing that made the original so fascinating: the way it played out almost like a stage play in various rooms and subsections of the villain’s lair, essentially a shopping mall for every imaginable kind of vice. The way Sleepless Night’s protagonist (played by the great Tomer Sisley) navigated the enormous, interlocked spaces and used the acquired familiarity to plan his son’s rescue called to mind video games as well, in the methodology and repetition. It’s an approach I hadn’t seen anything quite like before, and one of the primary ways the director’s professed desire to make something more than just a thriller manifested, while still making it a more effective thriller.

Deepening the layers of counter-intuition, in this particular case it may in fact be that doing a remake while jettisoning the elements that made the original sui generis may be the way to make that remake good. One has to posit, in this case, that a movie with Jamie Foxx and T.I. playing corrupt cops in Vegas is itself a good thing. I do. Or, more accurately, I consider it a promising start worthy of building on. And, indeed, I would consider an entire movie about Jamie Foxx and T.I. playing corrupt cops in Vegas enough of a hook without emulating the formal idiosyncrasies of Jardin’s film. It’s a better thing to play the premise straight, than dance self-consciously around it, because the intricacy required to do so without missing a step is difficult bordering on irreproducible. Especially in an American remake. The trashy cop movie, while no longer as much in the vogue as it once was, is one of the staples of the American cinema.

Politically speaking, cop movies share a similar space with Westerns, namely that the primary way they often need to be read to be enjoyed are as formal exercises. In reality, cops protect and serve the wealthy few rather than the vulnerable many, just as westward expansion was genocidal aggression rather than the fulfillment of divine beneficence. In movies, cop movies and Westerns use familiar iconography to set narrative guideposts, and utilize the inherent potential for violence to stage compelling action. Cop movies can engage in critique — see Charles Burnett’s The Glass Shield, Bill Duke’s Deep Cover, or Sidney Lumet’s Serpico, among others, as examples — or not (see nearly infinite examples of fascist cheerleading bullshit), but they are not inherently one way or the other. Also, some cop-critiquing cop movies are dull and strident, and some of the politically shaky ones are fun as all hell (the first Dirty Harry, for one, has some wildly fucked up politics, but it’s an absolute masterpiece of a movie).

Perhaps as a function of having grown up in the 80s, in the golden age of cop movies (and police procedural paperbacks; the entire decade can be summed up in the tagline of a book I owned in junior high: “Meet Eddie Kennedy. A cop with an attitude.” What kind of attitude, you may ask? AN ATTITUDE, the 80s replied) I’m perpetually at the ready for a new cop movie. Especially one with as “we know what the fuck we’re doing, look at this cast” an air as Sleepless. Especially since it’s January I’ve already seen all the prestige movies and this is all that’s playing at the mall. But be it a genre deconstruction, or a straight-up exercise in the genre, and in spite of massive political reservations, I’m somehow always ready for a new cop movie.

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