Sleeping Dogs

Russell Crowe is not having a good year professionally. Last month, he starred in the dud Land of Bad, and now he’s starring in the even worse Sleeping Dogs. Even when mired in nonsense, the actor always gives his all, which is true here, too. Still, it’s dispiriting to watch the Oscar-winning star stuck making low-rent junk. He deserves better.

Crowe plays Roy Freeman, a former homicide detective suffering from “movie dementia” – that peculiar ailment where symptoms only present themselves when it’s convenient for the plot. Freeman is summoned to meet with a death row inmate he put behind bars a decade ago for the murder of well-known academic Joseph Wieder (Marton Csokas). The guy maintains his innocence and begs the cop to revisit the evidence. He does and – for reasons far too laborious to explain in detail – the trail leads to Laura Baines (Karen Gillan), a student who was in a love triangle with Weider and his assistant, Richard Finn (Harry Greenwood).

Storytelling in Sleeping Dogs is unbearably messy. After establishing the central scenario, the movie pauses for a lengthy, pace-killing flashback that details the dull psychosexual drama between Baines, Finn, and Weider. Then it tries unsuccessfully to ramp up the present-day action again. Not that it matters, mind you. The whole movie is a parlor trick, a series of pointless plot developments designed solely to build up to a twist ending that isn’t earned and that any viewer who has been paying attention will see coming a mile away.


Director/co-writer Adam Cooper fills the film with clunkily written dialogue to match the far-fetched story. What’s especially weird is that Sleeping Dogs takes itself seriously yet is packed with non-stop ridiculousness, including Freeman’s experimental treatment that seems like something out of a sci-fi movie. Christopher Nolan's Memento is also shamelessly ripped off, with Freeman writing notes to himself so he'll remember important information. Despite dealing with the subjects, the picture knows nothing about police investigations, trauma, Alzheimer’s, or anything else. This is generic screenwriting from start to finish.

Crowe does what he can with the material. The other actors come off poorly, especially Karen Gillan, a talented and likeable performer who is badly miscast here. She’s asked to do a Sharon Stone-in-Basic Instinct kind of thing and simply doesn’t have the edge to pull it off. Tommy Flanagan plays Freeman’s former partner Jimmy. If you’ve ever seen a dumb thriller, you know the cliché about the protagonist cop’s partner, a cliché Flanagan makes sure to underline the second he steps onscreen.

Sleeping Dogs doesn’t feel like a real movie. It’s a two-hour assemblage of tropes, lazily strung together with no rhyme or reason. I hope Russell Crowe at least got a big, fat paycheck out of it.

out of four

Sleeping Dogs is rated R for violence/bloody images, sexual content, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.

© 2024 Mike McGranaghan