The compellingly awful thriller, In My Sleep—in which Melrose Place meets imitation Hitchcock—is so unselfconsciously derivative that you have to admire it…or, if you don’t admire the movie itself, than admire the jejune chutzpah of writer-director-producer Allen Wolf. His debut effort might satisfy those surfing second-tier cable channels. Ticket-buyers, on the other hand, will be bummed.
Exceptions will fall into two categories: those who can’t get enough of watching hunky lead Philip Winchester in his skivvies, and film students looking for a primer on what not to do (though admittedly the film’s “don’ts” are oddly engrossing). In My Sleep constitutes a lesson on how to render the obvious obviously. On the bright side, it’s so cheaply involving there’s no chance you’ll fall asleep. If there were indications Wolf was attempting a spoofy homage or was less serious about his project, much more could be forgiven.
That you excuse as much as you do—the prosaic script, the porn ambience and acting—is because In My Sleep is very watchable, beyond providing a chance to ogle Winchester’s pecs and handsome mien, and despite knowing what’s coming so far ahead all suspense is negated. It tells a soap-opera-grade story using arthouse tropes that are accessible to the point of being transparent.
Winchester plays Marcus Turner, a masseuse at a Los Angeles day spa with two related problems. He’s a parasomniac, a quasi-medical diagnosis used to describe those prone to bizarre sleepwalking episodes. Marcus might awake in a cemetery curled up in a ball, or in the front seat of his car, or, as in a key early segment, covered in blood in bed, a butcher knife lying nearby. He’s also a serial womanizer, a hetero lothario of the first order, who beds women with Tiger Woods-like ease. The main problem with his behavior is what it reveals about his damaged psyche. Much more than a commitment-phobe, he’s burdened with severe mommy/daddy issues we learn about through flashbacks. He attends 12-step sexaholic meetings and seeks medicinal aids from his doctor, but nothing calms his fitful sleep.
His tragic mistake is hooking up with the wife of his best friend and boss Justin (Tim Draxl). The trio looks as though they’ve stepped out of a beer commercial, but any intimations of a breezy, carefree threesome are shattered when Justin’s wife is found murdered. Marcus puts himself at the top of the suspect list—it’s hard to explain away that big knife—although there’s no shortage of candidates, such as Justin himself and Marcus’s clingy neighbor (Party of Five’s Lacey Chabert). The lame psychodrama, conceived by an ambitious novice, features one of the cheesiest final scenes in recent memory. Think the beach at sunset, complete with a soaring seagull and a symbolically exculpatory tide.
Wolf endeavors to inject some humor into his Hitchcock ode, but there’s only one occasion during which you’re laughing with the movie and not at it. Conrad Pope’s score apes Bernard Hermann so blatantly that it quickly grows irksome. Though not a bad imitation, it’s still an embarrassing act of mimicry, as is most of the tech work. Kudos to Wolf for being able to finance the project and for persuading the erstwhile Amy Aquino to play the investigating cop and Beth Grant to portray Marcus’s mother. Casting Michael Badalucco of The Practice as the leader of Marcus’ support group sends an egalitarian message about sex addiction.
Notwithstanding the lurid subject matter (including an unmistakable vein of homoeroticism) there’s a dearth of salaciousness that allows In My Sleep to arrive with a PG-13 rating. Would more explicitness have made it less risible? When the lights come up there’s reason to think Mr. Wolf might have been pulling your leg. That suspicion is dashed when you read his cringingly earnest director’s statement. A dynamo not devoid of talent, Wolf will be heard from again. Next time, let’s hope he fashions a less elementary nightmare—something that’s less a collision of “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” and Spellbound.
Distributor: Morning Star Pictures
Cast: Philip Winchester, Tim Draxl, Lacey Chabert, Amy Aquino, Tony Hale, Michael Badalucco, and Beth Grant
Director/Screenwriter: Allen Wolf
Producers: Allen Wolf and David Austin
Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, violence and bloody images.
Running time: 105 min.
Release date: April 23 LA, April 30 NY