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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

AWAKE (article first published : 2008-05-19)

Reportedly shot some two years ago, Awake is a long-time-coming thriller, written and directed by British newcomer Joby Harold which has garnered mostly poor reviews abroad. It doesn’t help that it now drifts into local cinemas under the black cloud of two nominations for the Razzies – awards annually recognising the worst movies of the year.

Awake’s Razzie nominations were for worst actress (trout-lipped Jessica Alba) and worst screen couple - Alba and Star Wars star Hayden Christensen, who have about as much chemistry as a steamroller and a cuckoo clock.

Alba plays a sweet secretary, Sam, who falls for New York billionaire industrialist Clay Beresford (Christenson). He’s a nice enough guy whose no-nonsense mother (Lena Olin) dotes heavily on him because he grew up without a father – he died in mysterious circumstances, wearing a Santa suit – and because young Clay has a very weak heart.

Mumsy, it transpires, is not at all happy when she learns that Clay and his adoring Sam have opted to marry the very night a heart becomes available to him. It’s under this tension that Clay faces the knife of a surgeon pal (Terrence Howard), of whom his mother doesn’t approve, preferring the surgery were done by a more famous, self-important surgeon (Arliss Howard) who “has had his hands in presidents”.

This is when the main premise of the movie kicks in. It transpires that Clay, during surgery, does not black out completely under anaesthetic. He appears asleep and is certainly paralysed, but he can feel and hear everything around him – and he soon comes to realise, in a state of panic and shrill voice-overs, that open-heart surgery appears to be the least of his worries.

This where Awake works best but, rather surprisingly, after milking a tense situation for only a few minutes – Clay is shown leaving his body to revisit and re-examine earlier scenes – writer-director Harold virtually forgets all about this angle, returning to a tale that becomes increasingly silly and implausible.

Frankly, the tale could just as easily unfurled without the awake-under-the-knife premise.

The acting in Awake is pretty unremarkable - characters include a tipsy anaesthetist who is more awake than he seems and an enigmatic British nurse – and the script goes off on some preposterous tangents, particularly towards the finale.

It’s not a totally awful film, to be sure - there are certainly some suspenseful moments - but it’s no Hitchcock, either. And those Razzie nominations were warranted. Another debit is that, even at just 80 minutes or so, Awake tends to overstay its welcome. Rating 5/10. - Billy Suter




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