A “Die Hard” setup drives the ultra-intense French pic “Sleepless Night,” which follows its bloodied, besieged cop protagonist through the corridors and crawl spaces of a single location — in this case, a sprawling suburban nightclub outside Paris. That the officer is bad to the bone — a badge-flashing drug thief, desperately trolling the club for a misplaced stash in order to free his kid from a crime boss’ clutches — hardly prevents him from being sympathetic, or the film from quickening one’s pulse. Warner Bros. has understandably snared remake rights, though Gaul stands to enjoy an international “Night” of its own.
Cinematic influence aside, director and co-screenwriter Frederic Jardin might’ve taken his cue from an illegal stimulant, so speedy is the pic’s pace from the get-go. If anything, “Sleepless Night” could use a few winks, as its frenzied manner grows a bit exhausting over feature length. Still, there’s no mistaking Jardin’s playful mastery of the Hollywood-style action aesthetic; his movie starts in high gear and accelerates steadily from there.
Spanning 24 hours, “Sleepless Night” opens at dawn, with a pair of masked men narrowly managing to seize 10 kilos of uncut cocaine in a carjacking heist that leaves one of the thieves, Vincent (a magnetic Tomer Sisley), nursing a nasty stab wound. Bleeding from the gut, but making it home in time to get preteen Thomas (Samy Seghir) ready for school as usual, Vincent is clearly (and comically) swamped by his conflicted duties as crook, cop and divorced dad.
Something or someone in Vincent’s life is bound to suffer, and it turns out to be Thomas, snatched from school and held for ransom by Jose Marciano (Serge Riaboukine), who calls from the kid’s cell to let Vincent know he wants his drugs back.
As night falls, the action shifts more or less permanently to the Tarmac, Marciano’s teeming dance club, where Vincent tucks the stash above a men’s room toilet stall. Later, Vincent discovers that the bag has been moved elsewhere, and that he’s being tailed by an eager-beaver cop colleague (Dominique Bettenfeld) who’s hoping to blow the lid off police department corruption.
To say that the pic gets relentless from here would be an understatement. Roughly a third of the film’s remainder follows the sweaty Vincent in shakycam as, giving or eluding chase, he sprints, stumbles, crawls or leaps across the club’s crowded dance floor, techno music thumping. The Tarmac’s kitchen becomes the site of more fight-scene mayhem and broken dishware than one could begin to quantify. At a certain point, the movie turns flat-out ridiculous, but rarely if ever to the detriment of fun.
Cinematographer Tom Stern, veteran shooter of many Clint Eastwood films, seems to have studied ’80s and ’90s Hong Kong thrillers in preparation for capturing crazy action that just doesn’t quit. Other tech credits are aptly adrenalized as well.