Is he or isn’t he—a serial killer, that is? Such is the question posed by “Awake,” a would-be thriller so convoluted that it takes nearly a third of its running-time for answers to be laboriously doled out at the end. It features some reasonably good actors—Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the mysterious protagonist and William Forsythe as a local sheriff—but also others, like Francesca Eastwood as a nurse and Malik Yoba as an FBI agent, whose performances reek of the amateurish.
The movie begins with a car being forced off an Oklahoma road by a truck. The driver (Meyers) is severely injured and carted off to the hospital, where he’s cared for by Nurse Diana (Eastwood). But law enforcement is also around, because the body of a young woman was found in the trunk of the wrecked car, and FBI Agent Frank Ward (Yoba) presumes the driver is the man he’s been hunting—a serial killer of several women in Texas. Unfortunately the injured man has—you guessed it—amnesia, the oldest dramatic crutch in the book. When he escapes with Diana’s help, however, the very act seems to prove his guilt–as, one would suspect, do the flashbacks to the murders that he experiences in flashy, color-drenched montages.
Ward and his old buddy Sheriff Roger Bower (Forsythe) set out to track John Doe down, but Diana takes him to the farm of her friend Tommy (Jeremy Parr) to hide out for a bit, until they go off again to ferret out his identity and prove his innocence. Among the places the mystery man will visit in the course of his search is the sheriff’s house, where he has a confrontation with the lawman’s son Oliver (James Austin Kerr).
It wouldn’t be fair to reveal here whether John Doe is the killer or, if not, who is, but rest assured that the solution screenwriter Elana Zeltser provides is so incredibly implausible that you might find yourself chuckling at its stupidity, despite it being disclosed with somber seriousness. (Even Agent Ward needs a drink from the silver flash he carries around to swallow it.) Aleksandr Chernyaev, a Russian TV producer director making what seems to be his English-language debut, plods through the unruly plot without much imagination, and Fedor Lyass’ cinematography makes the Oklahoma locations look suitably grubby.
There’s an interesting touch to a map of north Texas John Doe studies at one point, though. For some reason it’s been redone to add towns that don’t actually exist as the sites of the killings. In a movie like this, one supposes that constitutes a special effect. Certainly nothing else about this silly, dreary would-be thriller is at all special.