There are a certain amount of people who don't respond to general anaesthetic, they remain conscious throughout their operation but unable to speak or move. It’s known as “anaesthesia awareness”, and it’s a scary thought. So scary in fact that first time writer/director Joby Harold decided to make a film with anaesthesia awareness as his central plot device. Not as scary, however, as sitting through his finished product, which will have you begging to be anaesthetised for its duration.
For the first 30 minutes of Awake the condition doesn’t even get a mention as we are plunged into the dull life of Clay (Hayden Christensen), filthy rich with a dodgy ticker, his overbearing Lady Macbeth like mother (Lena Olin) and his girlfriend from the wrong side of the tracks (Jessica Alba). Alba is Olin’s assistant and secret girlfriend of Christensen, although quite why she has to be kept secret is one of the many plot points thrown in our lap with no explanation. Christensen is on a waiting list for a new heart which his friend, Terrance Howard, is in line to perform against his mother's wishes. She’s a rich woman with connections and she wants the surgeon general to pop the new heart in. All of this exposition is paraded in front of us with such a lack of conviction on the parts of the actors and director that by the time Christensen is flat out on the operating table we just don’t care about any of the characters. Once on the table the director shows his hand and we realise that this is all a big murder plot, involving malpractice suits, disgruntled doctors and scheming femme fatales. The trouble is that anyone paying attention during the first ten minutes will have worked out exactly what is going on, and as the film rushes to its twist filled conclusion each revelation is greeted by groans as characters behave out of character just to fulfil plot mechanics and the story starts to fall apart like a badly stitched wound.
The acting performances are mostly of the phoned in variety, but Christensen and Alba couldn’t even manage to do that, with two turns that redefine the term “wooden”. There’s not a lot of difference between Christensen awake and on the operating table, but when he eventually goes under and his voice over takes centre stage things really start to go pear shaped. Rather than the voice of a man who’s having his chest cut open while conscious he sounds more like a child who’s just been told to go to bed early and is throwing a mild tantrum. Add to this an operating theatre where people can wander in and out at will with scant regard for hygiene, and an ending that throws in metaphysical mumbo jumbo for the sole reason of tying up all the loose ends and giving the film a happy ending and you have the most unintentionally funny film of the year so far. The most disappointing aspect of the whole debacle is the fact that it isn’t really about anaesthesia awareness at all. It’s just used as a plot device so that we get to hear Christensen’s childish sulking which, quite frankly, we could have well done without. There is a good film to be made about this subject, but this most definitely isn’t it.