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'Before I Go to Sleep' review: Initially intriguing, lacks imagination

Ten years after a car crash, Christine Lucas

Ten years after a car crash, Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman) wakes up with no memory of her recent life in "Before I Go to Sleep." Credit: Clarius Entertainment / Laurie Sparham

Christine Lucas, age 40, awakes one morning in a comfortable bed next to a handsome man. She has no idea who he is or, for that matter, who she is. Padding around the bedroom in a towel, Christine is having an existential crisis straight out of a Talking Heads song: She asks herself, well, how did I get here?

That's the opening scene, and a recurring one, in "Before I Go to Sleep," an initially intriguing but ultimately lifeless thriller starring Nicole Kidman as Christine and Colin Firth as that man in her bed. He explains that he is Ben, her husband, and that Christine is suffering from severe memory loss, the result of a car accident. Christine can store up a day's worth of information, but, like an early home computer model, she loses everything during sleep.

"In the morning, it's all gone," says Ben, "and you're back to your early 20s."

Based on S.J. Watson's best-selling novel from 2011, "Before I Go to Sleep" has all the makings of a nail-biter, dangling a nifty mystery before us and parceling out little clues. Why does Ben keep lying, and so obviously? Why does Dr. Mike Nasch (Mark Strong) encourage Christine to keep a secret video journal? And who is the facially scarred man haunting her dreams?

Despite all that, writer-director Rowan Joffé (son of British filmmaker Roland Joffé) doesn't seem to be having much fun with the material. It probably isn't fair to hold every amnesiac-thriller to the same standard as Christopher Nolan's dizzying "Memento," but "Before I Go to Sleep" is oddly weepy and woeful, more hand-wringing than heart-pounding.

Kidman fits the bill as Christine, a fragile doll of a woman, but the role doesn't require much more than a jumpy demeanor and furtive looks. Firth, usually cast as the charming aristocrat, at least gets to stretch a bit.

The film's final twist -- actually more like a quarter-turn -- is anything but a surprise. When you exit the theater, you will forget the past 90 minutes.

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