Movie Review: “Rapid Eye Movement”

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An up-against-it disc jockey tries to raise money via a “staying awake the longest” record.

His marriage could be over. His career is hanging by a thread. And there’s this murderous nut calling in and threatening to kill him if he doesn’t hit his goal, one the nut has unreasonably demanded be well beyond the reach of a New York radiothon.

And I thought NPR pledge drives were rough.

Star François Arnoud of TV’s “The Borgias” and “Blindspot” makes a riveting unraveling the focus of “Rapid Eye Movement.” South African director Peter Bishai (“A Million Colours”) has concocted an over-the-top but engaging, paranoid thriller of the “Phone Booth” variety, a pot boiler that takes on a lurid life of its own.

Rick Weider is a New York radio legend in his own mind, an “alternative” DJ who finds fringe music and serves it to a not-nearly-large-enough audience on New York’s WLZW.

Here’s the “greatest Gypsy punk band ever, and you and I are going to make them famous!”

But whatever the hip “pulse of the city” factor of his show, arrogant, dismissive Rick doesn’t have the ratings. A rival DJ (Godfrey) wants his slot. His wife of nine years (Chloe Brooks) wants them in counseling, which he dodges. It’s all coming apart. He needs a stunt, something huge, to save himself.

A glass announcer’s booth in Times Square where he will bring the record for most hours — 264 hours, or 11 days — without sleep is his best bet.

He needs a charity to raise money for.

“Who’s got me a disease?”

AIDS?

“Too ’90s.”

Breast cancer?

“Nope.”

How about this disease a researcher was struggling with right up to the day he was gutted and disemboweled and left hanging off the Brooklyn Bridge?

No known cure? Spinal Muscular Atrophy it is!

He’ll have this physician monitoring him (Jamie Jackson ) who is a philosopher about sleep and Rick’s attempt, which will lead to “an intense assault on the mind, or dare I say, the soul.. Sleeplessness “denies a man his nightly escape from the horrors of this world.”

And within moments of this announcement, before this “Wakeathon” can even being, a creep calls him and implies that he killed the dead researcher on the bridge. He quotes the poet Robert Browning — “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”

“Browning,” Rick calls him, is unimpressed with the attempt, with the piddling amount of money that might be raised.

“You need to have a bigger vision, Weider!”

As the marathon begins and Rick talks, fund-raises, juggles priorities and watches the passing circus that is Times Square, the threats grow more direct and he has serious second thoughts of using the might-be-killer for “publicity.”

“OK, joke’s over or I’m calling the police.”

“Better call the MORGUE!”

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Bishai does a decent job of encasing this story in paranoia, and Arnaud goes suitably bug-eyed and crazed the longer Rick is supposed to be awake.

As he wigs out, he starts seeing a trash-talking preying mantis and an ever-growing cobra that could take him out. He tactlessly blunders through interviews with those who live with the disease, or whose children have died from it.

And Rick grows more certain that he’s doomed if he gives up this attempt, even as he convinces a few of those close to him that there really is a nut with a (serrated) knife, or gun or poisonous syringe or what have you who is REALLY into this “No sleep-a-thon” and its charity cause.

Chunks of possible suspense and mystery (It might have worked better had Rick been the only one to know he was under threat.) are dropped or dispensed with. The plot doesn’t withstand much scrutiny, starting with the notion of New York suddenly being riveted to anything happening on (cough cough) “terrestrial” radio. That’s as dated as “Phone Booth” was.

But Bishai and co-writer Brennan Smith throw everything but the kitchen sink at this thriller — complications, betrayals, sexual intrigues — and Arnoud lets it all hang out as Rick stops trusting what he sees and slips into a fog of exhaustion that hampers reasoning and every decision he’s made or will make.

It won’t keep you up at night, but just enough of “Rapid Eye Movement” spoke to me to let it work. It might work for you, too.

2half-star6

MPAA Rating: unrated, bloody violence

Cast: François Arnoud, Reiko Aylesworth , Chloe Brooks

Credits: Directed by Peter Bishai, script by Peter Bishai and Brennan Smith.  A Vertical release.

Running time: 1:48

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