Even though it's been slashed down to 78 minutes—which is about the bare minimum a non-animated studio film can offer for $10 a ticket—Awake feels like an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode unfolding in slow motion, with each new revelation coming a reel or two after viewers have guessed it. It's one of those movies that hides its big twist so poorly that it seems like another one must be in the cards, because it couldn't be that obvious. Yet the twist-within-the-twist isn't forthcoming, which leaves a suspense-free, sleepily paced horror-whodunit hybrid hung on a gimmicky premise that only pays off in unintended laughs. In other words, only the so-bad-it's-good crowd need apply.
Looking like the lost little boy two prequels away from becoming Lord Vader, Hayden Christensen stars as a pampered Manhattanite who's inherited a vast business empire from his late father. He lacks the self-assurance to take the reins, and his possessive mother, played with a certain Oedipal zing by Lena Olin, constantly undermines his confidence. But Christensen has matters more urgent than business on his mind: He's scheduled for a heart transplant as soon as a donor becomes available, and he defies his mother's wishes by hiring his surgeon friend Terrence Howard to do the job, rather than the officious doctor she's chosen for him. He also rushes to marry his girlfriend Jessica Alba, who also doesn't meet his mother's approval. During the procedure, he suffers "anesthetic awareness," a condition that finds him conscious enough to know what's happening, yet completely paralyzed.
Though it sounds horrific in principle, Awake mysteriously underplays the squirmy reality of a man watching himself getting cut open—and by surgeons who may not wish him well, either. Christensen narrates his moment-to-moment dilemma with hilarious lack of affect; much of the time, he's either pleading ineffectually for Howard not to pry his chest apart, or observing the action from a metaphysical plane. As an actor, Christensen projects extreme weakness, which was perfect for the sniveling fabulist in Shattered Glass, but disastrous in the Star Wars prequels and in this movie, which calls on him to show the inner strength behind all that self-doubt. It's unlikely that he could summon the will to survive an appendectomy, much less the murderous ordeal of major surgery.