Friday, September 23, 2011

Baby Bourne: ABDUCTION


Every movie is allowed a certain amount of implausibility, with the exact amount tied directly to the level of entertainment value. I suppose one could work out an exact formula that could determine the precise figures, but that’s beside the point. It’s all objective anyways. Everyone has his or her own internal meter to determine this sort of thing. The new teen-oriented action thriller Abduction broke my implausibility meter early and often. Just when it gears up for some big action sequence I found myself tripped up by the little details asking: Who? How? Why? Especially “why?”

The movie tries to make Taylor Lautner, the werewolf from the Twilight movies, into a star capable of taking center stage. He stars as Nathan, an average, if a bit on the wild side, teenager who discovers that a childhood picture of his is on a missing person website. Soon, two goons show up at his house and kill his parents (Jason Isaacs and Maria Bello, putting in little more than cameos) who, before they died, confirmed that they aren’t his real parents. Then one of the goons spits out a dying warning. “There’s a bomb in the oven.” Kaboom. The house blows up sending the fleeing Nathan and his study partner (Lily Collins) into the backyard swimming pool. They run to a nearby hospital where they call 911. “Are you okay?” the operator asks. “A little shaken up,” he replies. Talk about an understatement.

Somehow Lautner finds an unconvincing way to play rattled. He’s a pretty young man who, in his best moments of acting in the film, invites a similar amount of sympathy as a whining puppy. The plot thickens around him as the hospital fills up with dangerous people who want to attack him for some reason. Alfred Molina barks from a CIA control room while Michael Nyqvist stalks the halls with his vaguely villainous henchmen. Luckily Sigourney Weaver shows up to drive the teens to safety, claiming that she’s a friend of Nathan’s real parents. It’s all so very convoluted that she can hardly explain it to them, practically shouting that both men are up to no good but for separate and competing reasons, so trust no one. Then she makes them jump out of the moving vehicle.

Somehow the two teens stumble around and figure out how and why to show up on time for the competent scenes of action required of a potentially propulsive thriller. There are hundreds of bloodless gunshots fired throughout the film, a squeaky indifference to consequences. Sure, everything this kid believed has quite literally exploded out from under him but, hey, at least he still has his hot cheerleader study partner at his side and a sweet leather jacket on his back. He’s only a little shaken up. And he can more than take care of himself, possessing as he does a set of combat skills that seem at once learned and mysteriously second nature. He is like a baby Jason Bourne, so it’s only fitting that the girl says he looks like “Matt Damon meets…you.”

Director John Singleton, an Oscar nominee whose recent career choices, like Four Brothers and 2 Fast 2 Furious, can be charitably described as belonging to a slump, keeps things zipping along painlessly enough, I guess. The screenplay by Shawn Christensen is a jumble of semi-nonsense. It’s the kind of movie where computers are magic boxes that can do anything required of the plot with just a few keystrokes, characters suddenly possess knowledge they couldn’t possibly have gained, and a bomb can mysteriously appear ready to blow up inside an oven and destroy an entire building. To say the movie has a few plot holes would be an understatement. Between the creak of cliché and the whiff of straight-faced, unintentional silliness, the best we can really hope for is watchable.

It’s almost there, but for the fact that the talent just isn’t into it. Singleton may be coasting on competence in the direction department, but it’s the cast that really assists the film in sinking to the level of its script. Lautner’s trying his hardest, at least I think he is, and Isaacs and Bello are fine in their brief moments on screen. It’s Molina who seems inert, Nyqvist who seems distracted, and Weaver who has a curiously flat affect. Or maybe they think they’re in a comedy? Abduction may have been intended to be a ludicrous teenybopper distraction and a potential star-maker, but in reality it’s just a nice paycheck for a bunch of folks who deserve better. Watching it is painless and useless in the same proportions.

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