Film reviews and more since 2009

Sweet Dreams (2024) review

Dir. Lije Sarki

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★½

When Johnny Knoxville commits to something, he doesn’t half-ass it. In fact, he whole-asses it. He turned down the opportunity to be a regular castmember on Saturday Night Live because he believed so heavily in his own stunt-driven concept alongside his friends and fellow skateboarders. He insisted on being at the center of some of the craziest Jackass stunts. He suffered the most injuries in his career doing all his own stunts for Action Point at 47-years-old no less.

Even when he’s not risking death and permanent injury, Knoxville can turn in a delightful dramatic performance. He does so in Sweet Dreams, a film that’s poster suggests a rag-tag, Benchwarmers-esque comedy. Anyone who pushes play on this low-key, easy-to-miss straight-to-streaming flick might be surprised to find a more heartfelt and dramatic work than they were expecting. Less surprising, however, is the fact that the dramatic beats, in addition to Knoxville’s performance, are among its greatest delights while the sports comedy is lackluster and undermines its more serious undertones.

In Sweet Dreams, Knoxville plays Morris, a sorry middle-aged music video director whom we first meet passed out nearly naked on a park bench. He’s bruised, bloodied, and clearly on a multi-day bender. Even worse, he left his eight-year-old daughter home alone in the process.

By the forceful hand of his mother, Morris enters Sweet Dreams, a rundown rehab center run by Pete (comedian Mo Amer), who has no problem instilling tough love onto the house’s inhabitants. What a bunch they are: you have the prankster Jake (rapper Gata); a fella nicknamed “Tom Cruise” (Bobby Lee), who is having problems with overeating; and an assortment of other faces played by rock/rap artist Shakewell, Adam Faison, and Erik Anthony Gonzalez. The most likable is Frank (Jay Mohr), a former Hollywood mogul whose career crashed and burned due to his addiction. In one of the film’s most tender scenes, Morris introduces himself by saying he doesn’t want to become like his housemates, whose lives “suck” and personalities revolve around sobriety. Mohr’s Frank responds, not with vitriol, but empathy. He once had the same outlook as Morris.

One of the housemates’ passtimes is playing pickup softball. The recreational bonding effort later proves to be the only option to save the house as Pete finds himself overwhelmed with financial struggles trying to keep the lights on. A local tournament is offering an $80,000 prize to the championship team (as opposed to the real-life tourneys, which usually offer a couple hundred bucks and a certificate). Somehow, drunk league softball in this sleepy community has better financial backing than Pioneer League baseball.

The script, written by Lije Sarki (also director), is at its best when it spares us the extended sequences of softball camaraderie in favor of human interest. Thankfully, Sarki does his best to retain focus on Morris’ plight, which escalates in a later scene when Frank takes him to eat at his favorite restaurant only to realize it’s suffered massive damage after being hit by a ruck. Morris then realizes he was the driver of said truck during one of his many booze-fueled binges.

Still, my interest in Sweet Dreams significantly waned during the softball scenes. They’re nothing we haven’t seen before, done better in many movies, notably Dealin’ With Idiots and Everybody Wants Some!! Sarki’s laidback approach to the material does prevent it from turning maudlin on a dime, but his script also settles for a conventional, grin-inducing ending that feels abrupt and tidy, especially given the complex nature of Knoxville’s character.

If nothing else, Sweet Dreams further illustrates Johnny Knoxville’s dimensionality as a performer. He’s as entertaining playing a down-and-out drunkard as he is as someone almost too giddy to be runover by buffalo or ride a makeshift rocket-ship.

NOTE: Sweet Dreams is available to rent on multiple platforms.

Starring: Johnny Knoxville, Mo Amer, Bobby Lee, Jay Mohr, Gata, Shakewell, Kate Upton, Theo Von, Anderson .Paak, Adam Faison, Erik Anthony Gonzalez, and Jonnie Park. Directed by: Lije Sarki.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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