Screenwriter: Joby Harold
Starring: Hayden Christensen, Jessica Alba, Terrence Howard
Running Time: 85 mins
Awake, a bonkers medical thriller from first-time writer/director Joby Harold, possesses a crescendo of plot twists so ludicrous you’ll be rubbing your eyes in disbelief. If ER writers spent a debauched weekend in Amsterdam coming up with a feature-length script, something akin to this film might be the drug-induced result.
The story focuses on Hayden Christensen’s Clay Beresford Jr, a billionaire industrialist and CEO living in the shadow of his deceased father. Clay leads a good life; he’s rich, handsome, has a beautiful girlfriend Sam (Alba), a loyal best friend in Dr Jack Harper (Howard) and a caring if slightly overbearing mother (Olin). Unfortunately, his heart is weak and he’s in desperate need of a transplant. Within hours of marrying Sam behind his mother’s back, Clay is notified that a donor has been found and he can go under the knife immediately.
Clay insists that his friend Jack perform the procedure, despite his mother’s preference for the more accomplished surgeon Dr Neyer. Jack may be Clay’s close friend but he’s a clumsy professional facing four malpractice suits. Neyer, however, has proudly had his "hands inside Presidents". Friend or not, surely Christensen's smart corporate hotshot would choose the best man for the job and not someone with a track record as questionable as Dr Nick Riviera?
During the surgery Clay experiences "anaesthetic awareness". Unable to move or speak, he feels the pain of the entire procedure: every scalpel incision, the breaking of his rib cage, hands rummaging in his chest and so forth. All accompanied by a voiceover that consists of Christensen mainly screaming out in pain to nobody but himself and the audience. This sequence is hilarious - the crystallising moment when you realise that the film you’re watching isn’t just bad, it’s awful. Christensen proved in Shattered Glass he is a competent actor when underplaying and mumbling through a part. Required to convey fear, anger and confusion in Awake’s pivotal operating scene, he flounders.
Showing a lack of conviction, director Harold quickly navigates away from Christensen's one-man scream-a-thon. Sadly he takes the audience into even weirder territory as Clay manages to somehow pull himself out of his body and become an invisible apparition. Overhearing the conversations of his surgical saviours, it becomes apparent to Clay that he probably won’t wake up from the procedure. His phantom avatar plays Quincy, drifting through the hospital corridors trying to figure out why his life is hanging in the balance.
Of the supporting cast, Lena Olin gives a solid performance, while the usually brilliant Terrence Howard sleepwalks through his part. Christopher McDonald, probably the only actor involved who realises just how bad Awake is, adds a comedic touch as drunk anaesthetist Dr Lupin.
The two leads are stiff and lifeless, unable to generate any chemistry to make us care about their relationship. As Christensen is wheeled into theatre, his delivery of the line "I hope my new heart loves you as much as my old one" instantly justifies his part in the film's Razzie nomination for Worst Couple. Alba, despite being one of Hollywood’s most in demand actresses, is now on a three-year unbroken run of appearing exclusively in terrible movies.
Awake aims high, wanting to be function as a cerebral, modern-day Hitchcock thriller. Yet it is reliant solely on plot twists (four significant ones in total) and the connecting tissue between each is too flimsy and obvious to make the film work as an effective thriller
Good genre offerings can hold the audience, construct tension then turn the film on its head with one shocking sucker punch (see The Usual Suspects, Seven). Harold haphazardly bludgeons so many revelations into his film - as if he conceived them first then forced them into a script as an afterthought - that it becomes impossible to even begin to take his film seriously.