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DVD Review: Awake

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Written by El Puerquito Magnifico

Awake is, to the best of my knowledge, the first film to tackle the concept of anesthetic awareness, in which a patient is fully conscious of their experiences throughout surgery, though they are completely paralyzed and helpless to do anything. They can hear everything going on around them, they can feel every second of pain, but they cannot alert anyone to their suffering. I don’t mean to make light of anyone’s tragedy, but the same description can be used to describe how I felt watching this movie to write my review. Trapped. Forced to listen and endure the pain. Hearing everything and feeling incredibly uncomfortable, but having no power to stop it. My apologies for a tasteless joke – but bad movies inspire bad humor.

Awake, written and directed by Joby Harold, tells the story of Clay Beresford (Hayden Christensen), a young businessman involved in a secret love affair with his mother’s personal assistant, Sam Lockwood (Jessica Alba). Clay suffers from an undisclosed heart condition that necessitates a heart transplant, and he intends to have his friend Dr. Jack Harper (Terrance Howard) perform the surgery despite the four malpractice suits Harper is facing. Clay’s overbearing and domineering mother (played with an incestuous flair by Lena Olin) wants the procedure done by a close friend of hers, who is one of the top doctors in the world.

Clay and Sam reveal their engagement to his mother, a fight occurs, the couple rush to get married, and on that very same night, a donor is found. Clay is rushed to surgery, and on the operating table, he experiences anesthetic awareness. Completely awake and aware of the slice of the scalpel, the discomfort of the breathing tube, and the opening of his chest cavity, Clay is nevertheless able to crack a few jokes and delight the viewer with a terribly monotone voiceover. During the procedure, he also becomes enlightened to a devious plot to end his life. The rest of the film is essentially Clay reliving the first half of the movie via an out-of-body experience, and figuring out the details of the crime, along with learning a life lesson or two.

On paper, Awake probably sounded like a really good idea. There’s a few decent plot twists, and it is somewhat interesting to watch the mystery play out. The concept of anesthetic awareness is terrifying on its own, and doesn’t even need a murder mystery plot to be scary. The film translation of this notion, however, is a different story. Rather than simply try to be a pulse-pounding thriller, the movie takes itself way to seriously in its attempts to be some sort of in-depth character study and ends up becoming laughable.

While most of the cast is at least decent, Jessica Alba is…look, there’s no two ways about it: that girl should thank her lucky stars she looks the way she does, because she can’t act her way out of a paper bag. She’s like a black hole of talent that sucks the life out of every actor in a scene with her. Not that it matters; the film would be bad with or without her. I have to add though, that as a comic book and sci-fi fan, it is pretty neat to see Anakin Skywalker and the Invisible Woman in a movie together. It doesn’t save the movie, but it does offer me a glimpse of what I might see at a comic convention in 10 years.

The DVD has a few special features, including commentary with writer/director Joby Howard, deleted scenes with commentary, and a storyboard to film comparison. There’s also a little documentary entitled “Under The Knife & Behind The Camera: The Making of Awake,” which is exactly what it says it is, and the theatrical trailer, if that can even be considered a special feature.

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