Dead Awake (1999) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The liner notes:

Brilliant marketing executive Desmond Caine is a tortured soul stricken with a bizarre insomnia that keeps him walking the city's dangerous streets at all hours of the night. During one of his hallucinogenic journeys, he witnesses a brutal murder. Upon finding the victim's watch, he goes to the police and quickly becomes the main suspect in a twisted tale of cruel corruption, big money, and cold-blooded killing. How can you stop the nightmare when you're already dead awake?

After I read that, I was prepared for a screwy movie, and the first ten minutes didn't let me down. But as I watched and watched, I got into it deeper and deeper. It is an extraordinary black comedy which uses a film noir murder plot as its general framework, but wanders off into levels of insanity and exaggeration that make it quite good because of its sheer daring.

You see, Mr Caine is a brilliant amoral cog in an immoral corporate machine. "What do we do with our failed spackling paste, Mr Caine?" "Simple, market it as synthetic pizza dough. The public will buy synthetic butter and cheese, and that was a hard sell. Compared to that, pizza dough is easy."

Caine is an eccentric genius who sleeps all day with his eyes open, a fact which only his personal secretary knows. At least he thought his secretary was the only one, but when she was grotesquely killed trying to retrieve a suitcase on an electrified rail for a wheelchair-bound man, one of her friends stepped forward to ask for the job, and she knew everything about the insomnia. That girl, Kick, became his new assistant.

Since Caine sleeps all day, he can't sleep at all in bed at night, so he wanders the streets every night, following the exact same routine to the exact same spots with the precision of clockwork. Although a yuppie himself, he meanders through the parts of town inhabited by the down-and-out, the homeless, and insane street people in all-night greasy spoons. All of the characters in these locations are played for high concept comedy. Michael Ironside is especially intriguing as a muttering lunatic who clearly used to be some kind of a genius before an incident that shattered his skull. His mutterings are distorted and paranoid versions of genuine insights and arcana.

One night, Caine witnessed a murder involving complete strangers, but when the police start to investigate it, they were led to conclude that the only possible murderer is Caine himself. The dead man had a $10,000 watch that was bought by Caine's wife. Revenge upon his wife's lover?

Of course, nothing made sense at first, as if it took place in a surrealist film or a Kafka story, but it turned out that there was a logic to it. Although the details of the murder mystery were completely bizarre and grotesque, and the film was a black comedy, the writer did stay consistent and made the explanation fit the facts, absurd though they were. You see, Desmond's very predictability made him the perfect witness to a crime. He walked past the same place every morning at 3:17, so if someone wanted him to witness a murder, or a fake murder, all they had to do was commit it when he would surely be passing by. They weren't trying to frame him for the crime, but since he was set up by people who knew him, there was a good reason why all the clues led back to him, even though he thought it was a random street scene.



Get it?

The absolute outrageousness of the film and the offbeat characters made it special.

  • The police detective on the case won the lottery just before it was solved. When Caine went to the police station to ask for help, the detective informed him that he had quit the force several hours earlier, after having won $21 million. All of the policemen in the station were dancing, drinking, and blowing New Year's horns.
  • The victim was declared dead based upon a foot. Not only did they match the foot up to the "last known shoe", but they ended up burying only the foot because the rest of the body was missing. The police detective attended the funeral mass for the foot. He was the only one in the church. Luckily, Caine's lawyer used to be a shoe salesman, and proved that the foot didn't fit the last known shoe because there was too much room in the toe.
  • Speaking of Caine's lawyer, she was a famous defense attorney and took the case but she did not want any money. She only wanted the story rights for books, movies, and TV movies-of-the-week. She taped all conversations, but not because she didn't trust the police. She just wanted to get realistic dialogue.
  • You'll just have to trust me that the early scene with the wheelchair-bound man and the secretary getting electrocuted actually did make sense. In fact, it was an important  key to the murder.
  • There was also a sub-plot about Caine having shot a pit bull in a late-night greasy spoon, the same greasy spoon he went to every night with Swiss watchmaking precision. Although that seemed like an irrelevant distraction at the time, that event also got wound back in at the end, after the dog recovered from his wounds.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • no widescreen

  • no meaningful features

When I realized the star was the Blond Baldwin, and watched the first few minutes of this film, I though it was just going to be another smug, brain dead, grade-b, hipper-than-thou comedy, but it isn't. It is actually quite a tight, imaginative, brilliant, demented little script which just didn't quite prove marketable enough to become a theatrical release. I ended up genuinely enjoying the programmed consistency of its deranged logic, and the way the author tied all the absurd details neatly together. If you accept the loony world in which they live, it works as a thriller, and it worked for me as a black comedy. It does walk that proverbial fine line between genius and insanity, so it sometimes slips over toward the insane side of the line, and can be offensive. Most people will not like it. IMDB viewers say only 3.8/10, meaning they liked it about as much as pond scum.

But enough genius shows through that the small number of you who will like it may put it near the top of your list of recent favorites.

The Critics Vote

  • no reviews online

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDB readers say 3.8 out of 10.


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. Not a great movie, but interesting, daring, and experimental for a straight-to-vid. I have found that most people hate black comedies, but if you like that kind of thing, this is a surprisingly good one. Classic cult film in that mainstream moviegoers will hate it, but those that like it will absolutely worship it.

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