Director: Joby Harold
Writer: Joby Harold
Producers: Jason Kilot, Jason Kliot, John Penotti, Joana Vicente
Starring: Hayden Christiansen, Jessica Alba, Terrence Howard, Lena Olin
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 84 min
read my spoiler disclaimer

reviewed by Andrew James
     What is wrong with Hayden Christiansen? It's no wonder he's accused by the general movie-going audience of being a terrible actor. It's when he picks scripts like this that do him no justice, when cinemaphiles know he is capable of so much more (Factory Girl, Shattered Glass, Life as a House). Likewise with Terrence Howard. I wanted to reach into the screen and strangle some sense into both of them.

      Awake is the story of a rich and fairly powerful young man (Christiansen) with a heart condition. He's been on the donor's list for a new heart for months and just keeps waiting and waiting. Meanwhile, he's got a company to run, a fiancée (Alba) who is upset with him for not telling his overbearing mother (Olin) that they are engaged and the memories (or lack thereof) and legacy of a dead father to live up to. When a heart is finally available, he's whisked off to surgery for an immediate transplant. Problem is, the general anesthesia paralyzes him well enough, but he's really still awake and can hear all around him and worse yet, can feel the pain of the scalpel cutting him open.

      To me, this sounds like a potentially interesting storyline. Maybe something you might find from an Asian horror director or adapted from a Stephen King novel. Except for the fact the surgery doesn't even take place until about 30 minutes left in the film. The entire running length of the movie is wasted with Christiansen and Alba chatting about their upcoming marriage and trying to hide it. Useless dialogue between Howard and Christiansen to let us know they are friends. It's very noticeable and frustrating because it seems like nothing interesting seems to ever be happening.

      It is amazing to me that such high caliber, A-list actors would agree to sign on to a film by a first time writer/director. Had Joby Howard practiced with some lower budget experiments and tested the film as a short film, this experience might've had a little more panache to it. Not surprisingly, it doesn't. It's obvious the stars aren't particularly interested in being in the movie. They are lifeless and distracted - especially Anakin... I mean, Hayden. The one stand-out might be Lena Olin (whose beauty doesn't seem to fade with the years). Though she's not used overly well and it's not like it's an Oscar worthy performance; just a nice screen presence.

      There are some positive aspects to the film. One is the surgery scene. It's actually chillingly nail-biting. Watching a man's ribcage ripped open, knowing he's still awake and can feel it is intense enough; you don't even need any kind of backstory to accomplish that feat. Problem is, there's no way to express emotion from any of the characters. The surgeons are just doing their thing and Christiansen's character is seemingly unconscious. So how does the film try to elicit any kind of emotional response from its audience? By somehow allowing Christiansen to existentially remove himself from his body and roam around the hospital; mentally going back in time to try and piece together why things are happening the way they are and re-analyzing everything we've already seen throughout the film, though with a slightly different perspective. Far-fetched to say the least.

      The other positive isn't really all that positive... unless you're a guy. Director Harold made sure that Alba gets plenty of screen time looking as lovely as possible. Now as a heterosexual male, I can appreciate the gorgeousness of Alba as much as the next guy. But it's so painfully obvious that this is the only intent the director had (to show Alba in as many eye lash-batting poses and outfits as possible), that it had me rolling my eyes. Hell, the movie opens with her wearing as little as possible before jumping into a bathtub with a skimpy white tank-top on.

      Of course the story throws a curve ball at us once or twice, but to me it was so predictable that I didn't even care and could've physically written the story in half the time it takes for Harold to tell it; which is only about an hour and a half.

Click "play" to see the trailer:

IMDb profile - full cast and crew
Official Site
Flixster Profile for Awake