Movie Review – Abduction (2011)

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– Summary –

Director :  John Singleton
Year Of Release :   2011
Principal Cast : Taylor Lautner, Lily Collins, Alfred Molina, Michael Nykvist, Sigourney Weaver, Jason Isaacs, Maria Bello, Denzel Whitaker.
Approx Running Time :  106 Minutes
Synopsis:  Nathan Harper learns that his parents aren’t who they say they are, and narrowly escapes being captured by rogue operatives working against the CIA. On the run with his neighbor in tow, Nathan must fight to uncover the truth about who he is, stay one step ahead of the CIA and those pursuing him, and get the girl.
What we think :  Derivative action/thriller plays like a dumbed-down Bourne off-shoot, with Lautner’s pouty glare plastered all across the screen for the majority of the time. The big name cast surrounding Lautner and co-star Collins do solid jobs with thin material, but Singleton’s inability to create tension in the action sequences cause the film to run out of puff well before the final credits churn up the screen. You could easily avoid watching this and not feel that you’ve missed anything important.

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You’d rather be abducted than watch this movie…

I’m not sure when the “next generation” of action stars is due to come along, after the semi-retirement of aging actors like Stallone and Schwarzenegger (although their Expendables efforts are keeping them in the public eye, I guess), but if Abduction is anything to go by, Taylor Lautner’s in for a rough ride trying to fill those shoes. An action star he ain’t, least not in the Jason Statham kind of way, which is who he’s trying to channel in this film. He’s got the body, sure, and he’s got the adoring tweenage fans dragged along behind the Twilight phenomenon (indeed, it’s a phenomenon that Twilight was as successful as it was…. man, that’s some shocking tripe right there!) but as an actor, he’s got less ability than a piece of lumber. The poor boy tries hard, but his face seems permanently stuck in one position – disturbed frustration. Abduction, a film with as much to do with abductions as Gone With The Wind did with a stiff breeze, is a vehicle film designed to maximize Lautner’s imminently diminishing screen potential before those fans who love him cotton on to the fact that under all the muscles and chiseled looks there’s no Oscar winning actor. It’s a perfect film for him, designed to show off his skills as a former World Champion martial artist (he won several junior world championships, did you know?) as well as giving him the latitude to engage in a bit of romantic hanky-panky as this decade’s latest tweenage uber-god. Robert Pattinson will no doubt fade into background as Lautner upstages him in the looks department. Because it’s all about looks, right? Abduction isn’t a terrible film, but it’s far from a good one. If only the story carried more weight, and Lautner carried an ability to act beyond the style we see every day in The Young And The Restless, because this could have been a nice little identity thriller – as it stands, it’s a puff of smoke trying to stay together in a very strong wind.

Look, it’s my career, flying off in a different direction!

Nathan Harper (Taylor Lautner) is a young man affected by anger management issues, so much so that he experiences a recurring dream about a woman being killed in front of him. His parents, Kevin (Jason Isaacs) and Mara (Maria Bello) treat him with a kind of “training” mentality – his father engages in contact fighting for some reason, and Nathan’s also on the school wresting team. Nathan is paired with his next door neighbor, Karen (Lily Collins) for a school project on missing children, and while there’s a definite chemistry between the two, neither of them seem willing to explore the possibility of anything but friendship. As Nathan and Karen begin to work on their assignment, Nathan discovers a picture of himself as a young kid on one of the online websites set up to promote the cause: Nathan contacts the website for more information, which triggers a chain of events which no-one could have seen coming. Mara admits, when confronted, that he is not their son. Immediately, two men arrive at Nathan’s house and proceed to murder his “parents”, while Nathan escapes out the back with Karen and begins a long cross-country chase from the CIA, as well as a rogue agent determined to find him. The cause for all this angst? Apparently, Nathan’s real father, a deep cover CIA operative, stole a list of names of CIA agents who turned state secrets, and now that list is on the top of the list for recovery.

You know how I said that was a tree root digging into your back? I lied.

Abduction is a by-the-numbers, generic action adventure film with limited appeal outside of its star, Taylor Lautner. The script is diabolically contrived, from the fact that all of Nathan’s adult figures are actually there to keep him safe instead of being legitimate family members, to the hackneyed “meet in a public place” showdown when the chief villain finally gets to confront the teen, Abduction never once skirts originality or intelligence. The weird imbalance of slow, meandering character development is counter-punched by John Singleton’s frenetic action beats, none of which are entirely comprehensible or contain any “wow” factor whatsoever, crucially robs Abduction of any genuine suspense, emotion or coherence. Every character is simply a rehash of something we’ve already seen – and done better – in other films. Lautner’s mixed-up teen, Nathan, is barely original: he’s an angry young man with a particular skill-set designed to get him through whatever obstacles he faces in his upcoming adventure. An indeterminate character of little substance save the fact that he dreams about a woman being killed, and no matter how well written the dialogue is, or could have been, there’s no escaping the simplistic nature of screenwriter Shawn Christensen’s work in this instance. Lautner, as nice a fellow as he undoubtedly is, is unable to wring even the most miniscule amount of depth from this character, to the point where you can almost hear director John Singleton yelling out his desired response from off-camera as the film rolls along. It’s join-the-dots writing, coupled with join-the-dots acting, and it’s truly an unremarkable thing to witness.

I’m the only black character in this film that can make up fake ID’s? Dude, that’s some racist shit right there!

Lily Collins, as Lautner’s co-star, is eminently watchable as an actress, although she’s given even less than Lautner as a character. Karen, while required for the obligatory love interest for Lautner’s character, is as mired in iniquity outside of being pretty, although this isn’t Collin’s fault directly, more a fault of the script. All she’s really in the film to do is provide Lautner a reason to provide necessary exposition, and drag this wafer-thin script along from plot point to plot point. The rest of the films cast roster is filled with actors who should deserve a whole lot better than this. Alfred Molina headlines the adult stars, as the chief CIA agent tasked with bringing Nathan in for debriefing; Molina would be watchable reading his laundry list, and here he provides his CIA styled character with enough screen presence to be mildly entertaining, but not even he can elevate what is, frankly, a completely phlegmatic character above mediocre. Michael Nykvist, who starred in the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo out of Sweden, provides the tacit Bad Guy effort as a driven, ruthless killer intent on capturing Nathan for his own nefarious ends; as an actor, Nykvist seems out of sorts here, delivering the physical intimidation but not the emotional one. Again, it’s a badly written character, and hardly the fault of the actor. Sigourney Weaver provides brief humor as Nathan’s psychiatrist, who is also more than she seems, although her turn on screen feels forced into the story as a crutch to provide a Mother Figure of tenacity where none existed before. Weaver, as usual, plays it with a twinkle in her eye. Jason Isaacs and Maria Bellow play Nathan’s “parents” well enough, although the fact that you can sense something’s “off” about them from the get-go makes their eventual character trajectories less than fulfilling, either emotionally or narratively.

Beneath this jumper I’m wearing a string singlet.

For an action film, or a film marketed as one for all intents and purposes, you’d think there’d be more… you know, action in it. There’s a few nice set-pieces, sure; a brawl between Nathan and a henchman on board a train has echoes of the great train brawl between Sean Connery and Robert Shaw in From Russia With Love, although that’s being extremely kind to John Singleton. That, and a couple of nice shoot-outs and chase sequences aside, represents all that’s good about Abduction. I’ve never really been a fan of Singleton as a director, what with mediocre efforts like the modern Shaft remake, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Four Brothers, and now this, seemingly diminishing the luster from his breakout work, Boyz ‘n’ The Hood. Abduction feels like a project made for the money, not the love, with a kind of manufactured flavor about it all that just disappoints. There’s no energy behind the punches, no emotion behind the tears, and no truth behind the script. It’s a bare, miniscule story hook made with calculated avoidance of offending anyone – there’s no blood, not even during the rather brutal train brawl, or even when people are shot with a high powered rifle from exceptionally long range, leaving us with the kind of bloodless tweenage dramatic intensity that sucked the life out of the Twilight franchise. Singleton can’t quite get the balance of action and drama right, spending an inordinate amount of time building characters who contain miniscule backstory and development merely stretches out the gradual realization that this film moves like a seizure – in fits and spurts. Nothing happens at all in the first 30 minutes (I was watching the counter of my BluRay player wondering when something interesting might happen!) before the first moment of horror for Nathan when he discovers his parents aren’t really his parents. Even then, that moment of realization is met with a decidedly low-key style by Singleton’s camerawork, with even Edward Shearmur’s terribly derivative score failing to even arrive when it’s needed.

Because I always ride a motorbike like Tom Cruise when I’m escaping from certain death!

I know, this probably isn’t a film aimed at somebody in my age group, but that shouldn’t hinder my enjoyment of it as a film. As a film, it’s badly written, directed with a sense of “let’s try and be like Paul Greengrass” by John Singleton, and stars an actor with an innate inability to act like he actually cares about this stuff. Unfortunately, it’s only a matter of time for Lautner before he’s found wanting as an actor and discovers that his looks will only get him so far. He lacks the intensity of, say, a Jason Statham in a similar role, although a lot of that could be said to be a lack of maturity (he’s only 20, after all), although if he’s setting himself up as the next action star like Statham, there’s a lot of work to go through before audiences will accept him as such. A lot of work indeed. Abduction is a construction site of a film, lacking both the charm of being fun or the intensity of being serious, ending up just happy to exist as a zephyr in the middle-ground somewhere, waiting for Lautner’s rabid fan-base to lap it up. Such a shame, really.

What others are saying about Abduction:

Tom Clift found it devoid of …. anything, really: “Headlined by Twilight third-wheeler Taylor Lautner, John Singleton’s Abduction is a laughably humourless adolescent espionage thriller whose sole reason for existing is to cash in on the current popularity of its musclebound teenaged star.”

Stevee Taylor over at Cinematic Paradox detested it: “There’s little action in Abduction, and if there is, it isn’t all that exciting. It just wants to pound you with angst straight out of 16 year old’s Facebook statuses. It gets so lost in what it wants to be that there’s only one thing it actually succeeds at: being the funniest movie of 2011. And sometimes I don’t even think that was unintentional. I think that these people were smart enough to know that a line like “there’s a bomb in your oven” could never be taken seriously.”

Mike Williams at Front Room Cinema had his first Lautner experience, thusly: “Perhaps the most hilarious aspect of the film is when Taylor is asked to act serious. It’s dangerous enough to request him to act, but takes the biscuit as he tries to be all brooding and menacing. Not only is he as intimidating as a hedgehog, but exudes the charisma of a spoon, too. Therefore, it’s hard to really buy into the character and indeed, the concept. It’s a cruel thing to do ask of the lad, but does himself no favours at points where, for example, he takes a leap of faith from a high ledge, subsequently ‘injuring’ his leg, and decides to hobble around for a few moments like he’s been sodomised. Awkward.”

Sika over at We Have Beards So We Know Movies actually, like, enjoyed it: “I kind of liked it actually. It’s not a great movie by any means but your ordinary action flick who kind of entertains you for 90 minutes and when you’re finished watching it you can drop it faster than Kim Kardashian did her fiancée.”

Seen this film? Hated it? Loved it? Give us your opinion in the comments section below!!

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