Accidentially Camp Thriller Begs for Audience Participation

Maui Time | November 26, 2007
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Accidentally Camp Thriller Begs for Audience Participation

Awake (688 words)

By Cole Smithey

This sublimely awful suspense thriller is especially enjoyable for the wildly varied collection of talent taking one for the team. Hayden Christensen goes slumming as Clayton Bereseford, Jr. a young mogul in business with his mother Lilith (Lena Olin) with whom he shares a too-close-for-comfort relationship. Unbeknownst to mommy, Christensen is engaged to marry their company assistant Samantha (Jessica Alba) before he goes under the knife for a heart transplant, to be performed by his best friend and surgeon Jack Harper (Terrence Howard). Jessica Alba blinks like a deer in the headlights as Clayton undergoes the transplant completely awake as the result of a slipshod anesthesiologist. Periodic suspense gives way to a guffaw-inducing conspiracy climax that puts a punchline on the overlong joke.

“My hands have been inside presidents” is the campy line that cardiologist Dr. Neyer (Arliss Howard) uses to convince Clay that he should be allowed to perform the surgery instead of Dr. Harper. In spite of four malpractice cases pending against Jack, Clay insists on using the suave doctor because he saved his life in the recent past. Jack and Clay take time out of their days to fish in Manhattan’s East River like some modern day Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. It’s a hokey touch of plotting that writer/director Joby Harold sticks in as if daring audiences to laugh at the ridiculousness of the idea. Harold ups the ante when he shows the two men walking into the hospital where Jack works with fishing rods in hand.

But it’s a Halloween party scene that clinches the filmmaker’s “Rocky Horror” aspirations. Without warning Clay appears dressed as a four-star military general and for a moment we’re stunned at the idea that the young character might actually have been a general. The realization that he’s wearing such a vulgar costume makes sense when he sits down for a private discussion with his mother, who wears a nun’s habit for her disguise. The set-up and subtext are all the more hilarious for the filmmaker’s deadpan composition that looks like he tore a frame from Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut.” The problem is that only the audience seems to be in on the humor.

What matters most is the operating scene where Clay finally receives his heart transplant. Some undisclosed treachery gives cause for substitute anesthesiologist Dr. Larry Lupin (Christopher McDonald) to burst into the operating room with a flask sticking out of his pocket. Larry seems to have walked onto the wrong film set or at least the wrong profession because he never puts rubber gloves on to administer an anesthesia “cocktail” that leaves Clay silently screaming for someone to realize that he is awake beneath his paralyzed exterior.

“What the fuck!” Clay’s voice-over monologue screams in a state of “anesthetic awareness” as Jack inserts the breastplate divider that exposes his beating heart This is high humor when you take into account the simultaneous presence of Jessica Alba making nice with Clay’s overbearing mother in the hospital waiting room. Jack gets outside of his body and walks around looking at his own body on the operating table as a tear leaks from under his taped eyes. He also uses the opportunity to take a tour of the hallways to comprehend the intrigue that put him in this state of excruciating limbo.

No amount of Hayden Christensen screaming out in imaginary pain can induce the slightest bit of fear. The feeble attempt at inciting revulsion is an example of how “Awake” is a movie that only works if you go in with the idea that every actor, scene, and line of dialogue is to be mocked. “Awake” is Lena Olin’s movie. Her Lilith dominates every scene, and watching her eat up Jessica Alba before spitting out the bones is a delight to relish. Go see “Awake” fully-caffeinated with a bunch of friends willing to yell back at the screen and cheer for Lena Olin whenever she appears. It’s the right way to enjoy such an unintentionally camp piece of crap.

Rated R, 78 mins. (D+)


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