As a road movie stuffed with indie clichés, Sleepwalking is a drama paced at a screeching, ''sleepwalking'' speed.
Sleepwalking? More like Sleep-sitting-up-in-your-seat. The mind-numbing drama unfolds with Joleen Reedy (Charlize Theron), a busted-up single mother, homeless when her boyfriend is arrested; she also has a surly 11-year-old daughter named Tara (AnnaSophia Robb). Thankfully, Joleen's good-natured but slow brother James (Nick Stahl) brings them in to his apartment. Shifty Joleen, who has scatter-shot intentions, soon goes M.I.A. with another guy, leaving James with Tara. When he loses his job, she is put into foster care. But James springs Tara, and they go on a road trip to his father's (Dennis Hopper) farm for support. Acting like father and daughter, they fly under the radar. Once arriving at dad's house, James lies and says that he is married and Tara is his daughter. Problem is, his father is a violent SOB. He starts beating Tara and James, whom he had abused as a child. James is forced to stand up to his dad, and fireworks ensue.
Hopper's performance as an abusive dad is about Sleepwalking's only saving grace from complete drivel. He is a villainous, juicy terror, whose evil is etched in his lined, leathery skin. Hopper is a veteran and knows the territory of maximizing his character's nastiness, even if it seems like a rehash amplified. However, Stahl and Robb's chemistry, which consumes most of the movie's substance, is DOA. Sleepwalking loses momentum when they share time on screen. Stahl (Terminator 3), with a beard that adds age to his 28 years, doesn't intrigue us with his sleepy character. He comes off dreary and uninspired. Robb (Bridge to Terabithia), while only 14, is in over her head in this actor-driven piece, which depends on the utmost subtlety. Her pain and suffering and conflicted feelings about her mother just aren't believable. Theron is mostly supporting, a departure from her leading-lady status. Four years removed from winning an Oscar for Monster, she goes back to being drab in Sleepwalking, strung out like a junkie and emotionally vulnerable. But her character is not big enough to add any complexity. Woody Harrelson, as James' peripheral friend Randall, is comic relief as a doltish workman.
Theron also produced Sleepwalking, which premiered at Sundance 2008, from a script by Zac Stanford (The Chumscrubber). Newbie director Bill Maher--not to be confused with the host of HBO's Real Time--can't quite hit the right notes with Sleepwalking. This movie's goal of creating significance in half-consciousness is a tall order and requires a masterful touch to make it compelling. Maher simply does not have that. Besides the scenes with the abusive dad, the other characters seem to have odd timing in their delivery, as though Maher misinterpreted the script. Sleepwalking is a drama in which the actors' contributions are largely undervalued, due to the lack of consistency. Scenes with little or no relevance are tied to each other, alienating the audience members and, frankly, boring them to tears. But hey, if you're having trouble sleeping