Movie Information

The Story: A young billionaire finds himself awake on the operating table and learns his team of surgeons is planning to kill him. The Lowdown: Unintended humor is the only possible excuse for this utterly absurd thriller.
Genre: Mystery Horror
Director: Joby Harold
Starring: Hayden Christensen, Jessica Alba, Lena Olin, Terrence Howard, Arliss Howard
Rated: R

The most vapid stars of our age, Hayden Christensen and Jessica Alba, achieve total vapidosity in this jaw-dropping exercise in preposterosity from newcomer Joby Harold. Even at a scant 84 minutes, Awake challenges the viewer to remain in the state suggested by its title.

The sole—and slight—saving grace of the movie lies in the victim’s, pardon me, the viewer’s grim fascination with seeing if the proceedings can get even more ridiculous as the story progresses. In this capacity, Mr. Harold does not disappoint. Were it not for the existence of I Know Who Killed Me, Awake would easily win the title of the year’s biggest unintentional camp fest. Alas, it’s hard to beat Lindsay Lohan with a wooden leg—I mean beat Lindsay Lohan in a movie where she sports a wooden leg. (Doubtless the prospect conjured by my original phrasing would please quite a few people, however.)

Christensen stars as Clay Beresford, 22-year-old whiz-kid billionaire financial genius (see, you’re snickering already). Clay has everything: money, a loving mama with the disconcertingly Biblical name of Lilith (Lena Olin), a hot girlfriend called Sam (Alba) and a dicky heart (don’t reverse that). This last may not be desirable, but it’s what sets the plot in motion. You see, Clay’s on the waiting list for a heart transplant, but we’ll get to that in a moment, ‘cuz writer-director Harold has more setup in store. There’s an inherent problem with doting mamas named Lilith, I reckon, because mom’s just a little too doting (to the point of creepiness, in fact). Indeed, poor Clay is too cowed by her to reveal that he’s engaged to Sam, who is also Lilith’s secretary and has to pretend that she scarcely knows her betrothed is alive. Oh, the heartbreaking travails of romance among the obscenely rich!

Worse, mom is keen that his heart transplant be performed by the world’s foremost heart transplanter, Dr. Jonathan Neyer (Arliss Howard, Birth)—a man prone to saying things like, “I’ve had my hands inside presidents!” Clay, however, is fiercely loyal to his friend Dr. Jack Harper (a suitably embarrassed looking Terrence Howard), and wants him to do the deed—never mind those silly four malpractice suits hanging over his buddy. (Decisions like this are the stuff of which billionaire whiz kids are made.)

Well, on Halloween night, Clay opts to tell mom about Sam—with much wailing and gnashing of teeth on mom’s part. Naturally, he follows this up with a quick midnight marriage—complete with him carrying his bride down the church steps (this from a guy who was popping pills just to keep going a couple scenes earlier). Wouldn’t you know it, before the couple can even get the conjugality on, the phone rings, and yep, a heart has been found. Heart be damned—let’s consummate first! Finally arriving at the hospital, our hero gets prepped and wheeled off to surgery where the movie at last gets to the plot advertised in the trailer.

During surgery Clay finds himself in a state of “anesthesia awareness,” which is to say he’s paralyzed into immobility, but can feel and hear everything. The former allows Christensen one of those “Noooooo!” moments for which the last Star Wars movie made him so rightly famous. The latter (insert “spoiler” warning here, though spoiling Awake is on a par with trying to spoil a mackerel that’s been lying in the sun for three days) allows him to overhear Jack’s dastardly plan to murder him on the operating table. Actually, it’s a conspiracy involving Jack, his assistant, Dr. Puttnam (Fisher Stevens, Undiscovered), and the improbably named Nurse Carver (Georgina Chapman, The Nanny Diaries). Ah, but there’s someone else in on it. Now, who could that be? Yes, well, I won’t tell you, but it should be pretty obvious. It ought to have been obvious to Clay, too, since his buddy Jack never even bothered to take the photo of this fiend incarnate off the wall of his office!

Astonishing as all this is by itself, Awake takes it all the way to the stratosphere of silliness by affording Clay an out-of-body experience that finally finds him on some kind of oak-paneled astral plane for counseling and backstory by another recently deceased cast member. All of this leads to the theoretically nail-biting climax, which … well, I said “theoretically.” Look, No Country for Old Men, The Darjeeling Limited, Across the Universe and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead are all still playing locally. Why waste your time on this? Rated R for language, an intense disturbing situation and brief drug use.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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2 thoughts on “Awake

  1. Rowan

    Your movie review just relates the plot of the movie. Apart from pointing out a few pieces where you have to suspend your disbelief (like any movie) you haven’t explained enough to justify a one-star rating.

    I thought it had a slow beginning, bigger plot-holes than you noticed (wouldn’t Jessica Alba get more money if she just divorced him? wouldn’t over-dosing on heart medication make a heart unfit for transplant?) and the plot would have unfolded the same if Hayden Chistiansen wasn’t awake during the operation, missing out on the pay-off of a lot of suspense.

    But I really liked it! I’m no movie critic I can’t say much about the cinematography, actors… but the plot was original and I couldn’t see what was coming next. It was a movie that really played on your expectations of the characters so Jessica Alba was cast perfectly.

    You’ve got very colourful ways of saying “I don’t like this” but nothing practical to back it up.

  2. Ken Hanke

    Your movie review just relates the plot of the movie. Apart from pointing out a few pieces where you have to suspend your disbelief (like any movie) you haven’t explained enough to justify a one-star rating.

    I’d hardly call it pointing out “a few pieces where you have to suspend disbelief,” which was the point of recounting the story — and pointing out the absurdity of it and the characters and motivations. That — and the movie’s lame, charisma-challenged leads — seem to me like sufficient justification for the single star rating.

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