© 2007 Ray Wong


Every year, one in 700 patients who go through surgery wakes up during surgery. It's a horrific scenario all by itself. But what if while you're awake, you realize you're being murdered?

photo1At 22, Clay Beresford Jr. (Hayden Christensen) is a billionaire investment wiz kid who is extremely close to his widowed mother, Lilith (Lena Olin). Clay has a congenital heart condition that requires a heart transplant. He becomes good friends with Dr. Jack Harper (Terrence Howard) after Harper saved his life from a heart attack. Clay is also secretly dating his mother's assistant, Sam Lockwood (Jessica Alba).

photo2Against his mother's objection, Clay marries Sam in a rushed ceremony. Then Clay gets a call from Dr. Harper: a heart is waiting for him. The double good news send Clay through the roof and he insists on having Harper do the surgery, even though his mother's friend, Dr. Neyer (Arliss Howard), is a renowned expert in heart transplant surgery.

photo3During the surgery, Clay realizes that he's still fully awake and he knows and senses everything that is going on. He tries to alert the surgeons but, of course, no one could hear him. While listening to the conversations, Clay has the stark discovery that Dr. Harper, Dr. Putnam (Fisher Stevens) and nurse Penny Carver (Georgina Chapman) are in on the "game" -- they plan to kill Clay. But why? (Um, I think his billions would be the first clue). Shocked and disoriented, Clay needs to find a way to alert his concerned wife and mother.

photo4Hayden Christensen (Star Wars I, II, III) looks pale and detached in the role. Even though his character is a wealthy wiz kid, he still looks way too young and inexperienced to pull it off. In addition, Christensen lacks the ability and expressiveness to play the character effectively. His role is too passive and his performance is subpar. It seems that Christensen only has three expressions. Jessica Alba (Fantastic Four) is a beautiful actress, but she, too, lacks the acting ability to portray her complex character. There's absolutely no depth in her performance.

photo5The veterans fare somewhat better. Terrence Howard (August Rush) does a respectable job playing the scheming doctor, but Howard is too good an actor to be wasted in this two-dimensional role. Lena Olin (Casanova) has one of the best roles in the film: her "protective mother" part is complex, sympathetic, and active. She makes things happen and we root for her. Arliss Howard (Birth) does a good job as the concerned heart surgeon. The supporting cast does their job in their relatively minor roles: Fisher Stevens (Red Angel) and Georgina Chapman (The Nanny Diary) as the co-conspirators, and Christopher McDonald (Rumor Has It) as the clueless replacement anesthesiologist whose ineptness sets the plot in motion.

photo6The "what-if" scenario of Awake is fascinating that I'm surprised how badly writer-director Joby Harold's vision fails. Awake is his first feature, and it shows. The script is incredibly predictable: you can smell what's coming from three theaters away. The characters are so underdeveloped (the only thing you need to know is that they all want money) and the plot so deliberate that it's like watching a map unfold -- before it does you already know what it looks like and where the road is going. The dialogue is very pedestrian.

photo7There are some intense moments during the surgery when Clay Beresford is awake. The premise naturally lends itself to some gruesome, cringe-worthy scenarios. Yet it's nothing new either: Didn't Stephen King already write a story about that? Nevertheless, the script fails in that Joby Harold has made many clichéd and uninteresting choices. While we can figure out the obvious plot, it seems even more incredulous that someone as smart as Clay (one needs to be analytical, observant, and psychologically in tune to beat the stock market) could be so stupid when it comes to human relationships. Especially when you're a billionaire with a health problem, wouldn't you become more suspicious of people who want to be your "friends"? Wouldn't you want the best care you can have when it concerns your heart?

photo8That aside, the story follows a typical, predictable plot line that masquerades as a psychological thriller. What we get is really a meandering sob story about a guy who is passively made aware of his shortcomings and stupidity, through certain quasi-supernatural flashbacks. More often than not I keep wondering if the story would be ten times more interesting if someone else had written it. I think Joby Harold was too close to the story that he couldn't see the flaws or how predictable it was. Every clue and evidence are presented with a bright "Look Here" sign. It's so deliberately plotted that there are no surprises at all. So when the big "secrets" are revealed, we're left with a "ho-hum, big deal" feeling, coupled with the laughable expression on Christensen's face. I was surprised I sat through the entire movie fully awake.

Stars: Hayden Christensen, Jessica Alba, Terrence Howard, Lena Olin, Christopher McDonald, Arliss Howard, Fisher Stevens, Georgina Chapman
Director: Joby Harold
Writer: Joby Harold
Distributor: Weinstein Comany
MPAA Rating: R for language, an intensely disturbing situation, and brief drug use
Running Time: 84 Minutes


Script – 5
Performance – 6
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Music/Sound– 5
Editing – 7
Production – 7

Total – 6.2 out of 10

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