The idea that a surgical patient could be awake, aware, and completely paralyzed while a team of surgeons goes to work on his insides is, of course, a truly horrifying one. There you are, frozen and freaked-out, while the scalpel slices the skin, the clamps pull the bones, and the probing fingers start rootin' around -- and you can feel all of it! Yikes! Yep, it's a pretty scary idea, and one that COULD make for one helluva good scare sequence in a half-decent movie. Unfortunately, first-time writer-director Joby Harold has very little else in his arsenal aside from that one creepy concept, and so he went ahead and constructed Awake, an entirely yawn-worthy movie if ever there was one, around the one skimpy idea.
Hayden Christensen and Jessica Alba, a one-two power-punch of woodenness if ever there was one, star as a pair of soap opera-style young lovers. He's a dashing billionaire with a bum ticker; she's his stunningly hot fiancee who lives in fear of his perpetually disapproving mama. Together the couple possesses perhaps 1.8 facial expressions between 'em. So the rich little mama's boy is waiting on a heart transplant -- as if a billionaire has to wait on anything -- and when the call comes in, our hero's best buddy is scheduled to do the surgery. But wait, the anesthesia doesn't kick in! Ack! And just when the movie looks like it's about to get just a little bit creepy (as opposed to simply ... there), it unloads a volley of plot twists that'll have you slapping your head in disbelief, provided you haven't figured them out by the end of Act I.
It's plainly clear throughout the 78 anemic minutes of Awake that the entire screenplay was built around the "frozen awake during anesthesia!!" gimmick, and that pretty much everything else was left to sort itself out. Aside from two half-creepy sequences that take place on the operating table, Awake is little more than a one-stop shopping trip for thriller cliches, melodramatic meanderings, and nonsensical "out-of-body" moments that seem to exist just to pad the skimpy running time just a little. With only a few random commercial breaks, Awake might be mistaken for a surprisingly well-shot episode of E/R.
For what it's worth, Awake boasts a pretty solid cast, once you get past the bobble-head leads, that is: Lena Olin is suitably venomous as the unhappy matriarch; Terrence Howard does the best he can playing the "good guy" doc; the always colorful Christopher MacDonald pops up for a few amusing moments as a boozy anesthesiologist; co-producer Fisher Stevens drops in a few times and adds some color as a happy surgeon; and Arliss Howard steals the whole flick in only three scenes playing a mega-fancy cardiologist to the rich. Basically, it's a good thing Awake has a strong casting director; just a few more vacuous close-ups of Christensen and Alba and the movie would start to feel like a photo album.
Based only on his first film, it's pretty evident that Joby Harold is a better director than he is a screenwriter. There's literally nothing in Awake you haven't seen before, but at least the flick moves quickly and looks pretty nice. Here's hoping for his second feature, Harold teams up with a screenwriter who hates cliches -- and gets himself a better pair of lead actors.