A heart transplant is a pretty scary thing. They slice open your chest, wrench it apart and literally cut your heart out. How could it possibly get worse?

Try being awake for the whole thing and feeling all the pain. Apparently about one in 700 people have the unfortunate experience of being conscious despite anesthetics (whatever, that’s what the movie’s producers think at least), perceptive of everything happening. They can feel the unimaginable pain, yet they are completely paralyzed and unable to do anything about it.

But this is Hollywood, and so it must be worse still. What if you were awake for a very painful surgery and discovered a complex scheme to kill you?

Such is the unfortunate experience Clay Beresford (Hayden Christensen, “Star Wars: Episode III”), a young, wealthy New York City businessman with a failing heart. While on the waiting list for the transplant, he meets, falls in love with and secretly marries Samantha Lockwood (Jessica Alba, “Fantastic Four”), a woman working for his mother. His overprotective mother is extremely upset about the relationship – the same night Clay receives a call telling him his new heart is ready.

Clay’s mother wants the surgery done by one of the nation’s top surgeons, who happens to be an old family friend. Clay refuses outright, and encouraged by Samantha, opts for Dr. Harper (Terrence Howard, “Hustle & Flow”), an average surgeon in the city hospital who once saved Clay after a heart attack. That turns out to be a huge mistake.

The rest of the plot is convoluted and jammed with twists hopelessly compromised by hackneyed, soapy execution. The movie builds one crazy unlikelihood on top of another, and it all gets pretty absurd about halfway through. Nonetheless, there is energy and drama here that’s been rare of late. Despite its many flaws – not least of all the staggeringly bad dialogue – the film is impossible to turn away from. Like a cheap, form-written detective story, you know this is low-grade drama, but you’re still on the edge of your seat.

The concept of a person being awake for a major surgery is scary enough – the plot twists on top of that push “Awake” over the edge. Still, the film is helped along by a stoic performance from Howard as a well-meaning physician battling impossible demons that threaten to force his hand. In a low-key character role, Christensen is also at his best, far from the hammed-up juvenile that was Anakin Skywalker.

Dumped into theaters on a slow weekend, “Awake” is one of those films that studios regret making, yet have to release at some point. It wasn’t screened for critics and has been largely panned by the few critics who did see it. But while laughably flawed at times, this film is far better than its rating on any review-aggregation site might suggest. Those who see it won’t soon forget it – even if for all the wrong reasons.

Awake

At Quality 16 and Showcase

MGM

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

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