Hayden Christensen’s heart on (the operating table)

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According to the Hollywood Marketing Statistics Department, one in 700 people wake up during surgery every year. Even though their bodies are paralyzed, their minds are completely cognizant to every slice of the scalpel, every tug of the stitch.

There, I just saved you $9.

For that statistic (however suspect it may be) is the most fascinating aspect of the new thriller “Awake,” which has finally broken free of its cinematic sarcophagus after two years and lands on the screen with a deafening thud.

The premise is an interesting one for perhaps a Stephen King anthology. But not even the most skilled surgeon could not sew together a feature-length film out of it.

Hiring the two most wooden, monochromatic actors of their generation – Hayden “I helped ruin the Star Wars franchise” Christianson and Jessica “I make Dane Cook look talented” Alba – as well as dumping the film on one of the least-attended times at the box office is like giving the Romans a raw meat pantsuit to wear before tossing them to the lions.

Then again, having the dead-eyed Christensen spend half the film under sedation may have been the work of inspired genius.

Regardless, the film follows the story of Clay (Christensen) a young billionaire whose bum ticker is in need of an upgrade. We are introduced to a small cluster of characters/potential suspects who inhabit Clay’s sheltered, upper-crust universe. They are (in no order of importance, because, really, nothing in “Awake” is important):

  • Dr. Jack Harper (played by Terrance Howard, looking as though he stumbled onto the film’s set on his way to pick up a paycheck) – a cardiologist who once saved Clay’s life after a heart attack, and has since befriended the young industrialist. Oh, yeah, and he has four pending malpractice suits against him.
  • Samantha Lockwood (Alba) – Clay’s too-cute paramour who happens to be his mom’s personal assistant and is prone to acting jittery and jumpy when approached.
  • Lilith (played by the always watchable Lena Olin) – Clay’s mommy with whom he seems to have slight Oedipal issues (who can blame him, really, it’s Lena Olin!). She’s none-too-pleased with Clay’s choice of dames or doctors, which puts her and Clay at constant odds.

After watching what feels like hours of cuddling between the former Anakin Skywalker and The Invisible Woman, we finally get to the good stuff – a heart transplant. This allows for some meaty, old-fashioned, Discovery-Channel-graphic, chest-sawing surgery.

This is made even more intense when, while under anesthetic, Clay is not only alert, but hears of a plot to kill him.

As he carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey, the director uses this time to let Clay wander about his memory banks searching for who may want him dead. It’s as though he had some molecular-sized Mystery Machine in his noggin and decides to drive around seeking clues and perhaps some mental Scooby Snacks.

But what happens in the operating room is far more interesting than anything that’s rattling around in that pretty little empty head of his. For this billionaire boy-wonder has decided to go under the knife at a hospital that apparently has one of the most lax security policies outside of a third-world country.

Only two surgeons, a nurse and an anesthesiologist perform this lengthy life-and-death procedure. They are under no supervision, no records are kept, members are permitted to keep flasks of alcohol in their scrubs, and “random” visitors are allowed to saunter in, question the procedure and handle equipment.

It takes on an almost surrealistic tone that borders on slapstick were it not busy taking itself so seriously.

As far as the acting is concerned, Christensen continues his mopey man-boy streak, his voice cracking like a pubescent teen whenever he tries to emote beyond a whisper.

As for Alba, she has claimed that she will not appear nude in films, for she wants audiences to focus on her ability as an actress. After watching “Awake,” I think it’s time to slip off that shirt, sweetheart.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of “Awake” is that its clever conceit is just that. For it really makes no difference whether Clay was able to hear the operating-room conversation, drifted off into drug-induced bliss or dreamt of one day becoming Darth Vader.

If only the audience was afforded that same luxury.

~ by usesoapfilm on December 3, 2007.

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