Film review: Cast stumbles through familiar 'Sleepwalking'

Published: Friday, March 21 2008 12:00 a.m. MDT

AnnaSophia Robb as Tara and Nick Stahl as James Reedy in the uninspired film "Sleepwalking."

Kerry Hayes, Overture Films

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SLEEPWALKING — * 1/2 — Nick Stahl, AnnaSophia Robb, Charlize Theron; rated R (profanity, drugs, violence, vulgarity, brief sex, slurs, brief gore)

The title of "Sleepwalking" appears to be a reference to the film's capable-of-much-better-things cast. They practically stumble zombielike through the entire movie.

Of course, you can hardly blame them for being so uninspired by this material. It's pretty standard, by-the-numbers stuff.

In fact, the movie is so overly familiar, and its take on the dysfunctional family dynamics is so unoriginal, that the whole thing might as well have been titled "Generic Bleak Sundance Film Festival Drama No. 500." (The film was shown during this year's event.)

Nick Stahl stars as James Reedy, a loser who's thrust into the role of reluctant guardian to a pre-teen. She's Tara (AnnaSophia Robb), the daughter of James' irresponsible sister, Joleen (Charlize Theron).

Joleen's just taken off for destinations unknown, leaving James to take care of Tara, including making sure she's fed and that she actually attends school.

James is barely able to take care of himself and fails miserably as a surrogate parent, so Tara is taken away by social workers. But rather than leave his niece in foster care, James flees and takes the girl on the road with him.

There's a certain bad taste element here. At one point the movie appears to be justifying kidnapping as an alternative to foster care.

First-time director William Maher and screenwriter Zac Stanford also try to get us to sympathize with the irresponsible and immature Joleen, which is a huge mistake. Theron really can't do anything with this character as one-note and unlikable as she's written.

As for Stahl, he has given good performances in such films as "Bully" and "Frank Miller's Sin City." He seems bored here, as does Robb ("Bridge to Terabithia").

And let's face it, when lively actors such as Dennis Hopper and Woody Harrelson can't hold our interest, the film in question has some serious problems.

"Sleepwalking" is rated R for strong sexual language (profanity, crude slang and other suggestive talk), drug content (marijuana, mostly references), brief strong violence (some slapping, a beating and the abuse of a child), a brief sex scene (much of it overheard), derogatory slurs and brief animal gore. Running time: 100 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com

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