Filthy rich business prodigy Clay Beresford (Christensen) goes under the knife for a heart transplant, leaving his mother (Olin) and blushing bride (Alba) to fret in the waiting room. Anaesthetized but finding himself fully conscious, Beresford soon realises that something is horribly wrong with this surgery.
Director Joby Harold cites an excruciating bout of kidney stones as the inspiration behind Awake: a film he subsequently dreamed up, we must conclude, as some kind of twisted revenge. The concept - being fully aware yet unable to move during a major operation - is just about the most horrifying experience imaginable, so it takes a special kind of graceless ineptitude to mould it into this dull entertainment.
The initial half hour is mired in languorous exposition, where we fumble around trying to dredge up some sympathy for the uninspired protagonists. Clay is stinking rich but oh-so-sensitive, his mother is overbearing and a little bit scary, while her assistant (who is also her son’s secret lover) is cute as a button and twice as shiny. They’re all drawn with strokes a mile wide, and even the most oblivious viewer should join the dots well before the ulterior motives start popping up.
The meat and bones of the story are just as oafishly rendered. The surgery itself invites us into a ludicrous world where random people can stroll randomly in and out of the OR with no regard for the sterile environment. There’s a moment’s brief discomfort when the first incision is made - with Christensen howling soundlessly within his own head - but it’s soon replaced by an unintentionally comic voiceover that brings to mind nothing so much as a kind of macabre Look Who’s Talking. From there we’re taken on a tour of Clay’s past as his astral avatar wanders down memory lane as a way of distracting from the pain, while simultaneously piecing together what’s really happening.
It’s a maladroit shambles from start to finish with phoned-in performances all round and an impressive lack of tension for anyone not imminently scheduled for major surgery. The inevitable twist is all but announced in neon letters about ten minutes into the film and the embarrassing metaphysical overtures at the climax are the icing on a very embarrassing cake. But more exasperating than any of this is that the anaesthesia awareness at the heart of the film has absolutely no bearing on the actual story; its sole purpose is as a storytelling device - and not a particularly effective one at that.
Less painful than having your chest cut open, but a disagreeable experience just the same.