In case you haven’t noticed from the manipulative previews, AWAKE is one of those films that takes a single plot point—in this case, the rare surgery patient that remains awake and paralyzed during the procedure, despite the use of general anesthesia—and attempts to streeeeetch it out into a whole, long, 90 minute movie. When your protagonist is helplessly paralyzed for a tense segment or two, ala WHAT LIES BENEATH, it can work to build suspense before a climax, but when your protagonist is paralyzed for the whole fucking movie, well, it’s kind of like watching the Chrisopher-Walken-in-a-coma scenes from THE DEAD ZONE looped into a 90-minute atrophy montage.
Hayden Christensen is Clayton Beresford, Jr. (the most obvious rich guy name since Kramer’s “H.E. Pennypacker”), a wealthy financier working for his equally wealthy mother (a perpetually dewy-eyed Lena Olin) at a ritzy firm. Clayton Beresford and his mom have a creepy, Flowers-in-the-Attic type relationship, and he doesn’t have the balls to tell her about his blisteringly hot fiancé (Jessica Alba), who he’s forced to bang in secret at her apartment in the city. Jessica Alba is pretty high-maintenance, especially if you consider being superfine and always begging your man to stay home from work and hump your brains out to be high-maintenance. (Side note: Although Alba doesn’t offer any frontal nudity, there are a couple of shots that portray her nude back and about %15-%17 of the side of her breast, a cruel tantalization that seemed intentionally malicious. A group of guys exiting the theater ahead of me discussed the composition of these specific shots with a passion not seen since Kevin Costner said “Back…and to the left .”)
Torn between his controlling mother and a foxy fiancé that always wants to bump uglies and go to breakfast, Clayton Beresford is also saddled with a bum ticker. Luckily, his buddy Terrance Howard (along with his ‘where has he been?’ sidekick, Fisher Stevens) agrees to assist with a heart transplant. But Clayton’s mom wants to use her own surgeon (Arliss Howard), a crackerjack heart-swapper who’s so bad-ass, he likes to drop the fact that he’s going to be the next Surgeon General into casual conversation. When Clayton finally does go under the knife, it turns out that (wait for it….wait for it) he’s not actually asleep, he’s AWAKE, and he….can…feel…..everything.
While screaming in silence under the pain of his surgery, Clayton also happens to tune out the hurt long enough to overhear his surgeons discussing their plans to murder him. Well, there’s not much our hero can do lying on a hospital bed with his chest gaping open like Charles Hallahan in THE THING, so a disembodied Clayton starts cruising around the hospital, listening in on conversations and trying to figure out who’s behind his murder. The screenplay by writer/director Joby Harold is ridiculously contrived, and features nuggets of dialogue like “Do you think my new heart will love you as much as my old one?”, but luckily Hayden Christensen has graduated from the Hold Me Like You Did By The Lake On Naboo School of Dialogue, so he seemed to be in his element here.
As the disembodied Clayton continues to overhear conversations and slowly figure out the boring plot in which he’s entangled, there aren’t twists as much as there are a whole shit load of “bad guy” reveals. It’s like that crazy Joby Harold was sitting at home in front of his IMac thinking, okay, it’s been 20 minutes, I need a twist here, what do I got? Okay, got it, this is it, this is GOLD. You know that character you thought was a good guy, well guess what, they’re actually a bad guy! Ba-bam!
I mean, you can only do that about 10 or 12 times before I start to catch on to the pattern. AWAKE is confined to hospital interiors for the majority of it’s running time, and it doesn’t take long before the endless scenes of disembodied Clayton screaming in futility like an amped-up Swayze from GHOST start to get old. A thin premise stretched to its breaking point, AWAKE takes the most eclectic cast this side of TRUE ROMANCE and ruins any possibility of chemistry with heinous dialogue and a ludicrous plot. If you like shitty movies that try to hide under the guise of a tantalizing trailer, i.e. WHITE NOISE or CONGO, then you owe it to yourself to give AWAKE a look. Better hurry. It’s only going to be in theaters for the next hour or two.