In "Awake," Hayden Christensen lies on an operating table with his eyes taped shut. Savvy moviegoers will recognize this performance as a literalized continuation of his work in the "Star Wars" movie of your choice. To be fair, he's playing Clay Beresford, a very rich young businessman (at 22, Clay was Barron's man of the year) having a heart transplant. So Christensen is just following the instructions of this tedious thriller's script.
During the procedure, Clay experiences what the movie tells us 30,000 people suffer under anesthesia: His mind races while his body sleeps. So while Terrence Howard and Fisher Stevens, as the surgeons, saw him open, Clay screams, talks to himself, and goes to the sort of cliched happy place where Jessica Alba frolics in the rain. For what it's worth, Alba actually is in this movie. She plays Sam, Clay's doting new wife. They got married hours before the operation, to the consternation of his mother (Lena Olin).
As he rants and mopes around the hospital in scrubs, Clay discovers a sinister plot against him is underway. That could have been a noir-ish hoot. But first-time writer-director Joby Harold doesn't know what to do with this movie. Sentimentality gums up the viciousness. Viciousness gums up the metaphysics. And way too much time is spent in the operating room, where nothing dramatic or cinematic ever occurs.
The movie tries going for a laugh or two. It even makes stabs at irony. But since none of the story is suspenseful, remotely believable, or, at the very least, cheaply entertaining, who cares? Watching Terrence Howard bring dignity to another part that doesn't deserve it got on my nerves, too. His character has "two mortgages, two ex-wives, and two ulcers" - and four malpractice suits. But he still looks like a million moral bucks. This movie needs someone good and sloshy like Michael Caine to leave his dignity at home.
In lieu of him, there's Arliss Howard as a drawling rival surgeon. He has some fun with the sort of character who speaks only in exposition. The director also leaves enough holes in the plot to gaze at Olin's face and wonder why it doesn't have as many expressions as it used to. Alba, meanwhile, continues to mystify me. She has a point, but does it belong in the movies? She never bites down hard enough on a role so that her teeth sink into it. Toward the end of "Awake," she does suggest that she might have enjoyed a B-movie career in the 1940s. Otherwise, the sight of her and everybody else drifting around the hospital is like watching a more ponderous than usual episode of "Grey's Anatomy."