A pulp-fiction suspense drama that doesn't imagine it's anything else, Awake works, delivering on its paperback promise and not gussying itself up with any pretensions to emotional or psychological insight. It's not a great movie by any means, but as a throwaway thriller with a terrific mid-movie twist, it's not bad way to spend 84 minutes.
The premise is pure potboiler. Babyfaced twenty-something Clay Beresford (Hayden Christensen) somehow heads one of the biggest capital-investment firms in the world. Granted, he'd inherited it, what with dad Clayton Sr. (Sam Robards) having died when Clay was a boy, but aside from some Japanese he speaks to an overseas CEO with whose company he's merging, both the script and the hapless Christensen's whiny performance make Clay out to be more a minnow that a slash-and-burn shark. Regardless, he's very, very rich—and very, very overprotected by his controlling mom, deliciously named Lilith. (Check your biblical apocrypha, not reruns of "Cheers.") As played by weathered beauty Lena Olin, Lilith is a classy cobra, both venomous and willing to do anything to protect her young. The fact that Clay has a bad heart and is awaiting a transplant gives her all the more reason for maternal cocooning.
But dragons live forever and not so little boys, and Clay has decided to take a bride. That she's his mother's social secretary and not a supermodel or an entrepreneurial wonder-woman makes sense for a kid so smothered that all he knows is the business world and not life outside, and makes even more sense because she looks like Jessica Alba. Clay initially hides his year-long relationship with the young woman, Sam Lockwood, even going so far as to keep their six-month engagement quiet. But finally one night in a me-or-your-mom moment, he elopes with the logistical help of his best man, Dr. Jack Harper (Terrence Howard), his heart surgeon. Mom wants Clay to use her guy, Dr. Neyer (Arliss Howard), who had operated on presidents and is on the short list for Surgeon General. But Clay trusts his friend—one gets the impression he doesn't have many, or any—and, well, sorry, Mom.
As luck would have it, a heart becomes available that very night. Clay and Sam rush from their honeymoon bed and Clay is quickly in surgery—where Harper, along with fellow surgeon Dr. Puttnam (Fisher Stevens) and nurse Penny Carver (Georgina Chapman), find that the scheduled anesthesiologist has bowed out and an iffy replacement, Dr. Lupin (Christopher McDonald), has been called in instead. Not that it would make any difference to the movie's hook—that Clay is an ostensible one-in-700 patients with "anesthesia awareness" in which they're not fully under. And what the horrified Clay hears is a murder plot. Does it have to do with the Japanese corporation's ties to organized crime? Or is it something more personal?
That Clay has no bodyguards or private detectives or even the sense to have a pre-nup are just some of the logic holes that debuting feature writer-director Joby Harold has to maneuver around, and he unfortunately keeps banging his undercarriage. Still, his camera moves are proficient enough, the film is masterfully shot and lit, and the supporting roles are filled with highly talented, name-brand actors. (If you're wondering what 2006 leading-man Oscar nominee Terrence Howard is doing here, it's because Awake was filmed in 2005 and is only now getting released.) Even the much-maligned Alba acquits herself comfortably. Can't say as much as for Christensen, but since this is more an ensemble piece than a star vehicle, he doesn't hurt things too badly. And the last-minute twist, in addition to the earlier one, is actually kind of amazing.