Surprising, really, that "anesthetic awareness" -- helpless, immobile and, it should be noted, very rare consciousness during surgery -- hasn't been explored in a thriller before. Or maybe it has and I don't remember; that would explain why Awake sounds so novel but feels so familiar. In Joby Harold
's film, young millionaire Clay Beresford (Hayden Christensen
) is undergoing a risky heart transplant operation when he realizes the anesthetic isn't working as it should -- he is completely and silently paralyzed, but continues to hear and feel everything around him. If the movie wanted to top itself, it could find a way for Christensen to transfer immediately from anesthetic awareness into catalepsy, and maybe knock off Poe's "Premature Burial." Unfortunately and despite its killer gimmick, Awake isn't consumed with that kind of B-movie zeal.
Clay, like so many men before him, tries to block out the pain by intense concentration on thoughts of Jessica Alba
(playing his girlfriend Sam -- though oddly enough, Clay's strongest memories reveal nothing more explicit than Alba's demurely exposed back). His focus breaks down when he overhears some, shall we say, less than reassuring words from his doctors, and from there a trapped Clay races against time, desperately attempting to alert Sam and/or his possessive mother (Lena Olin
) of the danger he's in. Article continues below
You might wonder how a silent, immobilized man can accomplish this, and Awake will keep you wondering. The gimmick is a hook that doesn't sink in; first-time writer-director Harold hasn't figured out a clever way to integrate anesthetic awareness into a thriller plot. We see Christensen walking through his memories, and sort of mentally projecting himself into the world he overhears, but this doesn't translate into anything but a mix of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind lite and the out-of-body crime-solving in the equally undistinguished thriller The Invisible.
Instead of displaying any kind of metaphysical creativity, the screenplay falls back on a series of stock thriller twists, which I will not reveal here -- not so much out of respect for those who may see the movie, but rather because they're as boring to write about as they are to watch (and in at least one case, nearly irrelevant to the story at hand). In fact, one of the biggest has more to do with star politics than characters or their actions; Clay's mother is at least as prominent a character as the pretty faces on the poster. Those expecting a sexy thriller starring Anakin Skywalker and the Invisible Girl may be surprised by the bizarre bait-and-switch that leaves them watching a Lifetime melodrama starring Lena Olin.
Nothing against Olin (though if any member of the cast should be stealing scenes from younger costars, it's Terrence Howard
); Harold just doesn't seem particularly interested in the strengths or weaknesses of his cast -- Christensen plays another brooding young man of power, and the lack of depth in his relationship with Alba has ample anti-payoff in several muted, uninvolving climactic scenes. Even the use of the stars as visual ornaments peaks early, when an extended, creepy shot of Christensen submerged in a bathtub appears in the first 10 minutes. Nothing so arresting happens for the rest of the film; it's an exercise in dramatic paralysis.