Friday, September 30, 2011

Stolen Time

Is it wrong that I actually wanted to see Abduction?

Don't get me wrong; I could care less that this film is the first project to be headlined by Twilight star Taylor Lautner as a leading man, as the pug-faced bodybuilder has done nothing to convince me that he's earned the shot. Being in a successful series of films based on an even more successful series of teen supernatural novels is NOT a recipe for standalone success; Kristen Stewart has had no tangible success outside of the Twilight movies and Robert Pattinson had to adapt another popular novel (in the great Water for Elephants) to star in another hit. No, Lautner was nowhere near the top of the list of reasons I had for wanting to see this film; it was instead his director and co-stars who baited me into the theater like a mouse to cheese. I've never seen a John Singleton film, but even a middle-class white boy can understand the impact he has had with the urban titles Poetic Justice and the Oscar-nominated Boyz n tha Hood. And the talent piled around Lautner? Sigourney Weaver, Alfred Molina, Jason Isaacs, Maria Bello and Michael Nyqvist are all top-notch performers whose presence spoke to me and guaranteed that I would be seeing this film as soon as I could fit it into my schedule.

Movie appealing to teens? Guaranteed liberal cell phone usage
Nathan Harper (Lautner) is a normal suburban teenager. He's on the wrestling team in high school, crushes on his classmate/neighbor Karen (Lily Collins) and lives with his parents Kevin (Isaacs) and Mara (Bello). His is a fairly normal life, but he is also troubled in that he suffers from insomnia and rage issues brought on by dreams he has of witnessing a woman he vaguely recognizes being murdered. As a result Nathan doesn't always feel like he belongs in the life he leads, all more complicated by the discovery of his childhood photo on a missing person's website. Soon after learning that the people in his house are not his parents, Nathan and Karen find themselves on the run from a CIA group led by Frank Burton (Molina) and a Russian terrorist group under the leadership of Viktor Koslow (Nyqvist). If they are to have any chance, Nathan must learn about his real father and the reasons his life up to this point has been a lie.

Because every teenager need a motorcycle for... stuff
Unfortunately, there's very little good to say about Abduction. While the premise has some potential, it is utterly wasted thanks to a terrible screenplay by Stellastarr frontman Shawn Christensen. This man needs to stick to his musical career, as the film's horrid dialogue and pacing fail on every level. Almost is bad is Singleton's work as director. As far from the subjects of his earlier work as humanly possible, Abduction simply didn't have the right man in charge, as Singleton can't do for upper-class white kids what he did for lower-class urban black youths in the nineties. The whole teen angst movement that has become so popular in recent years seems over his head and one can't help but wonder what would happen if someone more in tune like Catherine Hardwicke had been in charge (of course she made the atrocious Red Riding Hood so she might not be the best example). Maybe it's time Singleton go back to writing his own screenplays, as he really doesn't seem to do well when it comes to other people's stories.

Sweaty Taylor Lautner is not a pretty thing
And yet this might have been slightly redeemable if Lautner had been a more polished lead actor; sadly, this was a bad first pick for a shot at a post-Twilight career. It's not the Lautner is a BAD actor, it's just that he can't overcome the trite material he's given to work with at this stage. Looking like a poor-man's Tom Cruise is not a good thing if you can't capture that early Tom Cruise charm, something he will desperately need if he wants success in the future. Lily Collins is no better, having not lived up to her billing as an actress to watch out for. As she was in this year's other snore-fest action film Priest, Collins is a goal and something to protect, but never breaks out of that shell and becomes her own character. She does get one moment to shine, but the scene is so overlooked by the filmmakers that it barely warrants a mention. Together, the pair make for an uninteresting set of leads, complete with an entirely implausible romance.

Trying to be slick. Failing.
And so it falls to the support cast to keep this film completely out of the gutter. However, despite the amazing amount of talent present even this group can't save this mess. Sigourney Weaver, Alfred Molina and Jason Isaacs are all high-impact talents who usually raise the quality of a film just by their mere presence. Look at Weaver in Paul; the perfect example of a perfectly-cast small role. And Molina was easily the best part of Prince of Persia, one of 2010's worst titles. Both are completely wasted here, with Molina not quite ringing true as a CIA operative who may or may not be trustworthy, and Weaver shockingly bland as one of Nathan's true allies. Isaacs has been good in just about every genre of film you can imagine, from the women's drama Nine Lives to the action thriller Green Zone to the sci-fi horror Event Horizon. He's always been amongst the best performers that nobody in the community recognizes, and part of the reason for that is his inability to pick the great, popular movies. In that way, he's kind of a male, English Robin Wright. Here, he's the best part of the film, only to be killed off early, along with the equally-talented Maria Bello. The biggest hope I had for this film was for Michael Nyqvist to make an impact on Hollywood. Nyqvist, best known for his leading role of Mikael Blomkvist in the Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larssen's Millennium trilogy, had an opportunity to become a known quantity to an American audience. Unfortunately, he suffers the same fate as Weaver, as what talent he brings to the table is countered by cliche characterization and the lousy script. He'll have another chance with the latest Mission Impossible film when it releases later this year, but it's still a major disappointment to see him wasted in this film.

Sadly, Excitement missed the last train to the filming of Abduction
Let's get this straight: Abduction is not a good film. It's not even a mediocre film. A cheap knockoff of the Jason Bourne series, this is a bad film that takes the talents present and cuts it all out until you cannot tell that it was ever there. One of the year's worst, it has the wrong director, a misused cast, and lead actor who can't yet cut it as a lead actor. Unlike the much more polished Pattinson, Lautner hasn't proven that he can yet carry a film with any degree of authority. Until he can, and until he starts to pick better material, I think I can safely avoid his theatrical releases for now and the immediate future.

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