Awake (March 5/08)
Saddled with a thin premise that's stretched to its breaking point, Awake nevertheless comes off as a slightly above-average thriller that benefits from better-than-expected performances and the inclusion of several unforeseeable twists.
Hayden Christensen stars as Clay Beresford, a high-powered businessman whose weak heart has made him an ideal candidate for a risky transplant operation. Despite the protests of his mother (Lena Olin), Clay allows his friend (and three-time malpractice defendant) Jack Harper (Terrence Howard) to perform the dangerous procedure - which, perhaps inevitably, goes horribly wrong as Clay is accidentally left awake for the duration of the painful operation.
Filmmaker Joby Harold takes his time in allowing the story to unfold - a choice undoubtedly governed by the premise - which does infuse the proceedings with an admittedly slow pace yet proves instrumental in forcing the viewer to sympathize with Clay's plight. The unexpectedly mature vibe - this is far from a typically brainless thriller geared towards teens - surely plays a significant role in the movie's mild success, with Russell Carpenter's cinematography aptly reflecting the moody, sporadically sinister nature of Harold's screenplay.
Christensen's reasonably effective work is boosted by the efforts of an unusually strong supporting cast, which - in addition to Howard and Olin - features appearances by Christopher McDonald, Arliss Howard, and Fisher Stevens (Jessica Alba, as Clay's girlfriend, lives up to her reputation and ultimately proves to be the weakest link here). The end result is an entertaining yet uneven little movie whose more outlandish elements are generally easy enough to overlook, thanks primarily to an appropriately brisk running time that ensures the whole thing never quite wears out its welcome.