“Dead Awake” is one of those movies that has an intriguing screenplay, is competently put together, but in the final analysis, you leave with a shrug and a “So what?” Because the movie has nothing to say, and certainly nothing of any degree of significance or even insignificance to impart on the audience, I’m unable to sell it as a movie worth seeking out. So what type of movie is it? It’s a David Lynch-inspired film that, like its leading man, sleepwalks through its production — but appropriately so.
It’s open to interpretation rather the works of the King of Kook himself, David Lynch (“Mulholland Drive”), has any meaning. But there’s none of that ambiguity with Marc S. Grenier’s “Dead Awake”, about a man name Desmond Caine (Stephen Baldwin) who suffers from a sleep disorder that forces him to wander the seedy landscape of his unnamed city. One night, Caine stumbles onto a murder, but when he reports it to the police, the police think he’s the culprit. Can Caine, who is a brilliant marketer of junk product, think his way out of this mess?
There is a lot to like about “Dead Awake.” The film is highly unpredictable, but this may be because the screenplay is so kooky for the sake of being kooky that no “reasonable” assumption when it comes to the plot is rewarded. Among the people Caine interacts with on his daily nightly jaunts is a cross dressing hooker; the dysfunctional patrons at a late-night diner; a police Detective with a chip on his shoulder; and his girlfriend, an eco-nut with delusions of saving the planet because “it’s [her] planet, too.” The point is, everyone in the movie (and I do mean everyone) with the exception of Caine is an exaggerated and cartoonish version of eccentric people you may know in real life.
Stephen Baldwin’s Caine character is, despite his odd sleeping disorder (he can’t sleep at night, but can sleep in the day with his eyes open), the only sane (and the straight man) character in the whole mess. Obviously writer Terry Abrahamson, with unorthodox camera techniques provided by director Grenier, is trying to give the impression of Caine’s world as more of a “dream world” than anything approaching reality. At one point, cops at a police station breaks out into spontaneous partying and drinking because one of them won the lottery. At another time, Caine meets his eco-nut girlfriend in a theater full of perverts. Do you “get it” yet?
“Dead Awake” is aesthetically very good, adding to the notion of the movie’s world as one big dream/nightmare that Caine is having, the product of his inability to sleep at the proper times. Although, surprisingly, this last point is never capitalized on. There’s no big twist at the end regarding the world — is it the “real world” or Caine’s make-believe “dream world”? In this day and age of Big Reveals and Plot Twists, it’s a wonder the filmmakers of “Dead Awake” could resist such an urge at all.
When it comes down to it, there’s really not much about “Dead Awake” to grapple onto. The mystery surrounding the supposed murder (the cops can’t prove it even took place) gets unnecessarily convoluted after a while, and at some point I stopped caring about who was in on the murder and who wasn’t. Unfortunately this was around the 60-minute mark, and the film is at least 30 minutes longer.
Stephen Baldwin (“One Tough Cop”), of the Clan Baldwin, does a good job as the stoic, on-the-verge-of-blacking-out Desmond Caine. For once, Baldwin’s bland expression (or is that expressionless?) suits his role. Because his character is pretty much sleepwalking through his whole life, as well as the murder investigation, Baldwin seems right at home. (Incidentally, he reminds me of the low-key, almost surreal performance of the usually stoic and bland Val Kilmer in “The Salton Sea”.)
Sometimes filmmakers make the mistake of turning their films into a Kook Factory without knowing why. Meaning everyone and everything in the movie is so oddball to the nth degree that you start to get sensory overload. And while “Dead Awake” does its kook very well, and the movie is never boring, I really can’t say if “Dead Awake” was worth watching, or if it was just too weird to stop watching.
Note: “Dead Awake” is labeled a Canadian-produced movie, but since there’s nothing very “Canadian” about it, the label is pointless.
Marc S. Grenier (director) / Terry Abrahamson (screenplay)
CAST: Stephen Baldwin …. Desmond Caine
Macha Grenon …. W.D.
Michael Ironside …. Skay
Edward Yankie …. Det. Gary Belladonna
Janet Kidder …. Kimberly ‘Kick’ Birmingham