Abduction (United States, 2011)

September 24, 2011
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Abduction Poster

Perhaps the only way to approach Abduction that will not result in a 105-minute boredom-induced coma is to think of it as a comedy, preferably with a drinking game attached. There are laughs to be had, although none of them are intentional. Girls (and gay guys) enraptured by Taylor Lautner's smoldering eyes and well-formed pecs aren't likely to be overly concerned about his wooden dialogue delivery or unchanging facial expression, but everyone else will be chortling. This is a miscasting of mammoth proportions.

It boggles the mind that someone thought Lautner could make it as an action hero. On some level, I suppose it makes sense. Looking at a specimen like Arnold Schwarzenegger, arguably the biggest action icon of the '80s, one could develop a model: nice chest, bulging biceps, limited emotional range, incomprehensible dialogue delivery. The problem is, Schwarzenegger was always a "man's man," whereas Lautner is generally despised by straight males of all ages. That makes Abduction an action/thriller with females as its primary audience, which is box office poison. Over the years, with rare exceptions, action films have struck gold on the strength of teenage boys.

Abduction starts out in suburban Pittsburgh, where Nathan (Lautner) lives in high school bliss with his mother, Mara (Maria Bello), and father, Kevin (Jason Isaacs). He has a crush on the unbelievably hot girl across the street, Karen (Lily Collins), but, other than staring at each other with deep, soulful looks (lingeringly captured by Peter Menzies Jr.'s camera), they don't do much in the way of interaction. Nathan's life falls apart when, one day while surfing the web for a school research project, he stumbles upon a "missing children" website that leads him to believe his mom and dad may not be his real mom and dad. Some bad guys, led by rogue assassin Kozlow (Michael Nyquist, the male protagonist in the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels), are suddenly after him, as is the CIA, led by Agent Burton (Alfred Molina). Once his "parents" are dispatched, Nathan's only allies are Karen and Nathan's shrink, Dr. Bennett (Sigourney Weaver), who becomes like Obi-Wan Kenobi in a pantsuit.

First of all, it must be acknowledged that the storyline for Abduction is shit. It's not silly or campy or deliciously over-the-top. It's mind numbingly awful. It rarely makes sense and seems to have been made for people who routinely don't pay attention or spend half the movie texting and visiting the snack bar. The movie ends with a huge WTF? anti-climax. I can never remember an action film concluding in quite such a lame manner. It doesn't quite fall into the deus ex machina family, but it's close. Can anyone imagine Arnold or Sly allowing one of their movies to end this way? What happened to the basic rule that the hero and the villain must go at it one-on-one?

The director is John Singleton. That John Singleton. The one who made his feature debut with the searing Boyz 'N the Hood. Admittedly, he's done his share of slumming since then, but this represents a new low. The man must have been hard up for work to agree to helm something this lifeless.

Singleton goes to great pains to draw a double line between the good and the bad. (The whole movie is ugly.) This is perfectly illustrated during a high profile chase through the concourse of the Pirates' baseball stadium. Nathan runs around people and, when he accidentally bumps into one, he pauses to apologize. Kozlow, on the other hand, plows through pedestrians, knocking them over with abandon, as if he's playing a video game in which points are tallied by collisions with innocent bystanders. Abduction also features a fight on a train that may have been inspired by the classic one in From Russia with Love, but it's hard to tell. The similarities could be a coincidence, and the intensity of the battle is more than a notch lower.

Lautner's limitations are on display from his first scene. Admittedly, he should not be judged based on his performance in Twilight and its sequels; those movies have an uncanny ability to suck the life out of even the most talented performers (Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning). However, if Abduction represents Lautner at his best, he won't be playing Hamlet any time soon. He is well-matched in Lily Collins, who equals him in both physical attractiveness and thespian ability. Whereas Lautner's expression is always one of brooding indifference, hers is one of whiny pouting. They spend a lot of time staring at one another, and even make out once, but there's no hanky panky. This is PG-13, after all. Lautner doffs his shirt twice. Alas, the topless count for Collins is zero. This is PG-13, after all.

Singleton has amped up the "star quality" of the production by recruiting "names" for secondary roles, probably in the vain hope that their presence will lend a patina of respectability to this misbegotten production. Their screen time disqualifies them for more than an extended cameo. Maria Bello and Jason Isaacs are eliminated at the end of a long and tedious introductory segment. Alfred Molina, who looks like he's wearing one of William Shatner's old toupees and has undergone some sort of face transplant, appears from time-to-time at key moments but never sticks around. And Sigourney Weaver shows up long enough to pick up her paycheck. Maybe she heard Ghostbusters III calling.

The bottom line is simple: Abduction (a title which makes no sense, by the way) has been made exclusively for the Taylor Lautner faithful. No other audience could focus exclusively on the actor's looks and ignore everything else in the movie. Card-carrying member of Lautner's fan club will be delighted because he's on screen for about 100 minutes, does the James Dean thing on a motorcycle, flexes his muscles at every opportunity, and strips down to his pants on a couple of occasions. For those who are indifferent to Lautner or who don't like him, the only way to survive Abduction is under the influence of a controlled substance, and even that may not be enough.

Abduction (United States, 2011)

Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: 2011-09-23
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Content)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1