Hayden Christensen, Jessica Alba, and Lena Olin star in a film written and directed by Joby Harold.

Never one to undermine the efforts of fellow comrades involved in organized workers’ struggles, let’s just say it pangs me to point out that movies like this tend to deflate the currently striking Hollywood writers’ contention that they should henceforth be treated like artistes. Without even knowing-or caring to know-the history of how-or why-this idea-challenged script became a motion picture, I’m going to hazard the reckless guess that it floated like cream above the drab milk usually served to those who green-light big-name pictures. In this case, those big names are Hayden Christensen, Jessica Alba, and the once-fierce Ingmar Bergman protege Lena Olin.

Maybe it isn’t just the writer’s fault. The marketing department has to answer for its own self-bloating sins, too. Awake is not, as the previews indicate, a horrifying Saw-like tale of a person trapped paralyzed on an operating table, lying conscious while his heart is literally torn from his body (although that does actually happen). Instead, the device is exploited gently to allow Christensen a kind of screaming moment and then a nervous out-of-body Nancy Drew traipse-off for some after-the-fact amateur sleuth-work leading up to the exposure of his own murderers. Too bad it’s not exciting, though. The film is far less dramatic than its own plot description.

Newcomer Joby Harold directs his own pabulum lucidly with occasional wit, and his efforts seem to point to a brilliant future on ER or Grey’s Anatomy, stat. But Harold should’ve been sent to rewrite; somebody responsible should have pointed out how this preposterous setup ruins any chance at real suspense, never mind art. (A comic book would supply more verisimilitude.) In the end, we all know this is about commerce, not screen literature. People who demand artistic respect summon the likes of Hitchcock or even Stephen King. They ought to be held to higher accounts and kept around to create works that haunt the mind, and not just scare up profits at the box office.


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