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It was probably inevitable that one day there would be a Taylor Lautner film called “Ab” something, so at the very least Abduction serves that purpose. Whatever else can be said about him, the teenage star definitely gets a workout here, traversing more woodsy territory in eastern America on foot than anyone since Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans. John Singleton‘s action thriller has a decent sense of propulsion but, after a faintly intriguing start, the convoluted plot mechanics overwhelm everything else, making you feel you’re watching a detailed blueprint for a movie, and an increasingly far-fetched one in the bargain. This Lionsgate release offers enough chases, gunplay and adolescent eye candy to attract the intended audience, indicating mid-range box office results.
Singleton’s first film since Four Brothers six years ago is a straight-down-the-middle commercial outing with a hook that keeps the leading couple on the run, The 39 Steps-style, for most of the running time. Starting off with a drunken high school pool party, the film’s first half-hour is layered with some off-kilter vibes: When Pittsburgh school senior Nathan Harper (Lautner) wakes up hungover, his macho father (Jason Isaacs) forces him into some borderline-sadistic hand-to-hand combat; Nathan oddly avoids talking to his lovely classmate Karen (Lily Collins) who lives across the street, although they do make significant eye contact; he sees a shrink (Sigourney Weaver) about insomnia and rage issues, and he stumbles across a Missing Kids website that features a photo of a boy, missing for many years, who looks exactly like he did at the time of the disappearance.
Nathan asks the woman he’s always believed to be his mother (Maria Bello) if she’s actually his mom, but no sooner does she confess the truth than two goons in suits turn up at the front door and kill her. Tough Dad then gets done in as well, while Nathan and Karen barely escape with their lives when the house blows up.
Immediately called by a CIA op (Alfred Molina) who urges the kid to trust him, Nathan understandably feels he can do nothing of the kind. Equally suspicious is the sudden arrival of his shrink to spirit Karen and him off in her BMW while some Serbian bad guys follow in hot pursuit. Quickly informing Nathan that only four people have ever known his true identity — his dead adoptive parents, Molina’s Agent Burton and herself — the shrink dumps the teenagers on the side of the road and tells them to hurry up and get to a safe apartment that awaits them in Arlington, Virginia, only 250 miles away. Okay.
Thus begins the succession of increasingly absurd plot points in Shawn Christensen‘s screenplay which Singleton evidently believes are best dealt with by racing right past them than by trying to convincingly explain things. After tromping through the forest and hitching a ride, the pair find the apartment, along with some money, a gun and another BMW, evidently the preferred car of the CIA, or perhaps of the Lionsgate product tie-in department. The couple don’t know who to trust but quickly decide better the CIA than the Serbs, led by the icy, dead-shot Kozlow (Michael Nyqvist, the capable star of the Swedish The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels, here performing a decent audition to play a Bond villain).
All the killing and chasing and commotion need a MacGuffin, which in this instance consists of a list of CIA agents who have somehow been compromised. Why this is so important is either never made clear or gets lost in the shuffle. For his part, Nathan would like to know who his real parents were; perhaps WikiLeaks will reveal their identities soon.
A bad sequence from which the film never recovers is a major fight scene on a train between Nathan and a Serbian thug noticeably bigger than he is. Given the paucity of hand-to-hand battles in railroad sleeping compartments in recent decades, a filmmaker knows going in that such a sequence is inevitably going to be compared to the immortal struggle between Sean Connery and Robert Shaw in From Russia With Love a half-century ago. To put it kindly, the comparison is not to Singleton’s benefit; the compartment is too big, the action too slapdash, the resolution far too easy.
Abduction just seems silly from here through to the finale, a complicated set-piece staged at Pittsburgh’s scenic PNC Park during an actual Pirates-Mets game last year. The sequence calls to mind the baseball climax of another early ’60s thriller, Blake Edwards’ Experiment in Terror, which was shot at Candlestick Park.
In the end, it all feels like much ado about not much. The film lets Lautner down more than the other way around and he essentially holds his own surrounded by the sturdy likes of Weaver, Molina, Isaacs and Bello. Collins, who made her big screen debut in The Blind Side last year and has the title role in the forthcoming Snow White, has a promising, offbeat appeal.
Sporting strong production values, the film looks spiffy.
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