There’s an obvious angle here, the meta one about how the premise of Awake — that a man is paralyzed but still awake during a heart transplant — runs parallel to my own experience of watching the film — wanting to be asleep but forced to suffer through the excruciating pain of viewing it — but, I’m going to dismiss it as too easy. The other option, of course, is to do what I did here and here, and focus on the performance of Jessica Alba’s rear end, but it never deigned to appear in Awake, which is a head scratcher, for I haven’t a clue as to why else Ms. Alba would be cast in a film (surely not for her acting talent, for as far as I can tell, its existence is like that of Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster — rumored, but unconfirmed). I’m also curious as to why Hayden Christiansen — despite the complete absence of special effects in Awake — still appeared to be acting in front of a green screen, for there could be no other earthly explanation for a performance that is simultaneously as wooden and flaccid as a Viggo Mortensen fight scene. There’s also the somewhat less obvious tact, taking Terrence Howard to task for wasting his Oscar-nominated talent on this film, but that would just be piling on, and I’m going to assume that Terrence had a good reason — perhaps he lost a bet or he owed someone a favor for murdering an obnoxious cousin. The existence of Fisher Stevens? Well, that I can understand, what with the attachment of a paycheck, which he clearly needs — those royalties from Mystery Date won’t last forever, you know?
So, I’ve essentially backed myself into a corner here, and I am now left with no other recourse but to actually discuss the movie in question, which would force me to relive it and you poor unfortunate souls to suffer through a plot description of what has to be one of the more asinine stories ever to see the big screen. But here it is: Clay Beresford is a 22-year-old real-estate magnate of some sort who has a weak ticker and is thus in need of a new heart. He’s in love with his overprotective mother’s secretary, Sam (Jessica Alba). After a year-long courtship, he finally breaks down and confesses to his mother that he’s been schtupping the help, a turn that displeases Mommy (Lena Olin). She threatens to disown him, which sends him scurrying to a church for an impromptu wedding ceremony hurriedly put together by his close friend and heart surgeon, Jack (Terrence Howard). Within minutes of ceremony, and before Clay and Sam can even consummate their marriage (and thus make use of walking, talking Alba Ass — just pull the string!), he is called to the hospital, where he has coincidentally — just at that moment! — risen to the top of the donor’s list.
Clay is quickly put under anesthesia, only it turns out that it doesn’t actually do the trick, so he’s left with anesthetic awareness while his surgical team rips open his chest cavity and replaces his heart. Clay is forced to go to his happy place so that he can withstand the pain — said happy place being thoughts of a fully-clothed Alba Ass walking the beach or, later, taking off a high heel (Alba, not her ass — asses don’t wear shoes, you silly kids). Since Clay can’t actually talk or see (his eyes are taped shut), we must live through the first part of his surgery via Clay’s robotic voice-over narration, which mostly consists of a lot of this: “Ouch. That hurts. Oooh. Ooh. Don’t do that. Ouch. Ouch. Oh please. Ouch. Stop cutting me with that very sharp knife. Stop separating my rib cage. Oooooh. That tickles. No just kidding. It really hurts. I. can. not. bear. the. pain. Oh. God.”
After suffering through 20 minutes of that, the director, Joby Harold, finds a new way to explore the surgery: He has Clay imagine himself walking around the hospital trying to get to the bottom of the shenanigans that are taking place, shenanigans that aren’t terribly hard to figure out, like, a decade before you even walked into the film. All of which leads up to a plot twist that is so stupendously obvious, so unbelievably stupid, so motherfucking ridiculous that … well, I simply must share it, so as to save those with a fetishistic proclivity for unintentional comedy from actually having to suffer for it.
(*small voice*) The wife and doctor are lovers who arrange the surgery so that the doctor can kill Clay, leaving his fortune to Sam. But after Jack infects the replacement organ, and while Clay — still AWAKE but on a bypass machine — is near death, Mommy kills herself in the hospital so that Clay can have her heart, but not before she and Clay have a long conversation together in the netherworld between life and death, which looks a lot like a penthouse office. (*end small voice*)
So, yeah: The only thing unsurprising about Awake is that Katherine Heigl never runs into the room and screams, “We need a crash cart. Stat.” It may be the worst paced film I’ve ever witnessed, like one of those dreary, atmospheric horror films, but there is neither any atmospherics nor horror in Awake, except for the horror of watching it. Indeed, the entire conceit — that he is actually experiencing the surgery while awake — never actually plays into the plot development. Never. I mean, how could it? He can’t communicate with anyone and thus affect the story arc.
I don’t know who Joby Harold is, and the only information IMDB gives is that “he is British,” so I can only assume he’s a junior in high school who just won the RC-Cola Screenwriting Award for Feebleminded and was given $1 million to make his feature debut, most of which he probably blew on penny whistles and moon pies. The presence of the cast is completely unexplainable; I mean, what does it say when even Jessica Alba outshines her material? I’ll tell you what it says: It says that there is someone out there even dumber than she is, and someone even dumber than that allowed him to make the film. If you think about it, that’s a lot of dumb people — I bet there were a lot of unscrewed light bulbs lying around on the set.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife and son in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.
Awake / Dustin Rowles
Film Reviews | December 2, 2007 | Comments ()