From the archives: “Awake”

January 28, 2012

Wow. This movie has issues. Serious issues.

To begin with, there is the main character, Clay Beresford. Clay is described (to his face, in case he wasn’t aware) as being rich, powerful, owning half of Manhattan, making millions of Wall Street, saving companies, creating jobs, Fortune’s man of the year at 22, lives in a vast building on Central Park West, has never taken the subway nor been to Brooklyn. Yeah, this is a guy I want to throw back some beers with.

And this, our sympathetic protagonist, is secretly engaged to Jessica Alba (her character’s named Sam Lockwood and lives in the dreaded Brooklyn. When she calls him and coos “I want you to come here and kiss me all over,” he responds “I have an important Halloween party I have to go to. I’ll try to swing by after that.” Okay, so our supposedly-sympathetic protagonist has blown off sex with Jessica Alba to go to a Halloween party (an important one, apparently—has there ever been, in the history of All Hallows Eve, an important Halloween party?) Now, I’m not a huge fan of Jessica Alba—no shrine to her, usually skip her movies, don’t care what ethnicity she is—but as a sane, heterosexual male let me just go on record as saying that I would probably skip my parents funeral if she gave me a booty call (she might change her mind and the folks aren’t getting any less dead—it’s just common sense).

Worse, after the party our hero doesn’t rush over to Alba’s place for a spirited game of Captain Kirk and the Green-Skinned Orion Slave Girl, but instead plays cards and exchanges skeevy, Oedipal banter with his hot mother (played with MILF-alicious zeal by Lena Olin).

But it gets worse. Our (sympathetic) protagonist is played by Hayden Christensen. Weird thing—someone told Christensen that he was an actor and now he gets cast in movies, this despite the fact he has no discernable acting talent. Along with being wan and listless, he’s blank, awkward and greasily creepy. He’s got one good performance to his credit, and that was playing greasily creepy journalist/fabulist Stephen Glass in the great Shattered Glass. Unfortunately, that performance alone can’t make up for the travesty that is his existence, and while it’s unfair to blame him alone for the debasement of the Star Wars franchise (Lucas cast him, after all), but he had no small part in it. George Lucas may have bent the franchise over the pinball machine, but Christensen took his turn, too.

Okay, so Clay’s a junior Master of the Universe who deprioritizes sex with his beautiful girlfriend, has severe mommy issues, and has the affect of a sullen 15 year-old because he’s played by Hayden Christensen. On top of this, he’s got a bad ticker and is waiting for a heart transplant. His best friend is his cardiologist, Dr. Jack Harper (Terrence Howard). How good of friends are they? They take time out of their busy day to go fishing in the East River. Apparently neither cardiology nor Wall Streeting are terribly time-intensive. On top of this, mom’s not happy about having a rival for his affections and is even less happy that it’s Sam (who happens to be her personal assistant), and least happy about the fact that Clay wants his fishing buddy to perform his heart transplant and not her hoity-toity surgeon (“I’ve had my hands inside presidents,” Doctor McStuffy boasts, probably not realizing that after the Clinton Administration, that phrase could mean any number of things).

Well, let’s fast forward a bit. Clay ends up on the table for his heart transplant, with Sam and hot-Mom anxiously waiting in the waiting room. Thanks to a last-minute replacement anesthesiologist (played by Christopher “Shooter McGavin” MacDonald) Clay ends up Awake during the procedure, paralyzed, but able to feel and hear everything (this is called “anesthesia awareness,” though its prevalence is questionable). And by everything, I mean he feels his chest being split open and hears the doctors plotting to kill him. Wow. That’s gotta suck. Clay’s experience is presented by a voiceover, numerous flashbacks, and a lame out-of-body effect. Things get rapidly worse when he learns Sam is in on the plot (which only makes sense, since it’s not the like docs would profit from their patient dying on the table).

Some other stuff happens, but it’s pretty stupid and I don’t feel like summarizing it. Cliff Notes? Mom takes her issues to a whole new level, the murder plot fails, and Clay learns that his father wasn’t the heroic captain of industry he’s always believed him to be, but a drunk, wife-beating, coke-abusing creep who threatened Clay’s life while wearing a Santa Claus suit (it’s pretty hilarious on screen, too).

The biggest issue that Awake has is the filmmaker’s utter cluelessness about how drama works. It’s not supposed to be passive. The moment Clay goes under, he ceases to be an active participant in his own story. He watches everything unfold, affects nothing, and is saved only by other people figuring things out independent of him. Try to think of the last movie in which the hero spends the bulk of the movie completely sidelined, unable even to interact with other characters. I can’t come up with any.

So what lessons do we take away from this movie? Near as I can tell they are these:

1) Always trust your mom over your girlfriend/fiancé/wife. Even if your mom sometimes throws you looks like she wants to have sex with you.

2) Don’t trust the commoners who live in the outer boroughs. They wish only to exploit and rob the gilded class.

3) Don’t spend your life trying to live up to your father’s legacy, since he’s probably an abusive, coked-up Santa Claus.

4) Hayden Christensen would make an excellent file-clerk somewhere.

5) Movies tend to be better when your hero does stuff.

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