(by Dustin Putman
Sure, Taylor Lautner (2010's "Eclipse") looks good when he's ripping off his shirt and turning into a werewolf, but does he have what it takes to carry an entire film? "Abduction," his first solo headlining gig since hitting it big with the "Twilight" series, answers this question with a doubtful shrug. Granted, few actors (if any) could make this particular project work—as disquietingly directed by John Singleton (2003's "2 Fast 2 Furious") and inanely written by musician Shawn Christensen, it's increasingly dopey—but Lautner isn't exactly a master thespian, either. He's not hopeless like Alex Pettyfer—at least there's a sliver of charisma in what he does—but as a performer he has the complexity of a Tinker Toy. Article continues below
The movie begins with an intriguing general premise, then deflates with stunning immediacy as idiotic contrivances and hair-brained, non-event revelations take over. Nathan Harper (Taylor Lautner) is your typical semi-rebellious teen, a good kid who's not above getting drunk at a party and passing out on a stranger's lawn in nothing but his skivvies. He lives in an idyllic Pittsburgh suburb with his parents, the slightly belligerent Kevin (Jason Isaacs) and loving Mara (Maria Bello), and is the top member of his school's wrestler team. He should have the world at his fingertips, but as he tells his psychiatrist, Dr. Geraldine Bennett (Sigourney Weaver), he can't help but constantly feel like he's a stranger in his own life. While doing research online for a sociology project about missing children, he happens upon a photo of a 3-year-old named Steven Price who looks uncannily like himself. Helping to prove his suspicions is the shirt he's wearing in the picture, which he still conveniently has tucked away in his dresser drawer. No sooner has Nathan confronted his impostor of a mom about what she has long hidden from him when shady men arrive at their door, shoot Mara and Kevin, and blow up the house with a literal ticking time bomb they've somehow planted in the oven. With few answers as to why he's being chased and no other choice in the matter, Nathan and next-door crush Karen (Lily Collins) go on the run.
Why do these gun-toting bad guys, led by Russian black op Nikola Kozlow (Michael Nyqvist), want Nathan so badly? How is this connected to the pasts of his birth parents, whom he has scarcely ever known save for in the recurring dream he keeps having? Is CIA agent Frank Burton (Alfred Molina) to be trusted, or is he and his team in on the conspiracy, too? "Abduction" gets around to filling in the narrative blanks, but they are so underwhelming the movie might have been better off just leaving them ambiguous. In the meantime, the viewer is left to marvel at the number of bad lines, choppy editorial cuts, and just plain asinine occurrences that take place throughout. The first is in the opening shot, as Nathan whoops and hollers while joy-riding on the hood of a truck while it careens around sharp turns on a wooded road. He hasn't spoken a word and already Nathan doesn't appear to be the brightest bulb in the tanning bed. Perhaps the funniest moment comes at the sheer sight of sole protector Dr. Bennett helping Nathan and Karen to escape a hospital undetected by way of the three of them scurrying around the hallways in the middle of a giant bouquet of balloons. Yes, you read that correctly. Later, the forthright Dr. Bennett tells them as they flee in her SUV, "There's a soft curve up ahead. I'm gonna slow down just enough for you to jump out." So much for being Nathan's protector.
The clunky-as-all-get-out screenplay and its crazy leaps in logic only ratchet up from there. Sure, Nathan has just seen the only two parents he's ever known gunned down and blown to smithereens, but that doesn't stop him from sharing a mischievous grin with Karen at the sight of the cool car they get to make their getaway in. From there, it's onto a train where the two randy teens make out within an inch of their own virginity. Stopping herself, Karen goes to get them food in the locomotive's cafeteria. Picking up a Snickers bar, she says out loud and with a clear spring in her step, "He might like that!" Unfortunately, their plan for a meal is interrupted by one of Kozlow's cronies. Despite being on the run for less than a day, when they do finally sit down to some food, they eat with both hands, piling burgers into their mouths like they've been lost in the wild for a month. A climax set during a Pittsburgh Pirates game sounds better in theory than in follow-through, the cat-and-mouse climax not so much reaching a head as just petering out, losing interest, and wrapping up without a semblance of plausibility.
The participation of a wide range of trusted veteran actors can only conceivably be attributed to pressure from their agents, who must have thought being in a movie with Taylor Lautner would raise their cache with the high school demographic. How else to explain the appearances of Sigourney Weaver (2010's "You Again"), Jason Isaacs (2011's "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2"), Maria Bello (2011's "Beautiful Boy"), and Alfred Molina (2009's "An Education"), all of them stranded with thankless second-banana roles? Meanwhile, the caterpillar-browed Lily Collins (2009's "The Blind Side") escapes relatively unscathed as love interest Karen, holding on to her convictions in the face of having to utter the frequently deadly words scrawled in the screenplay.
"Abduction" has its unintentionally amusing pleasures, but they aren't enough to overcome how decidedly pedestrian the film is as a thriller. Cobbled together with a preponderance of dumb ideas, the only fun comes in guessing what clichéd howler will escape the actors' mouths next. When Nathan asks Dr. Bennett what's going on, she actually replies, "There's no time to explain." When he presses her further, she hastily exclaims, "There's no time!" And so it goes. Director John Singleton isn't wholly incompetent as a filmmaker—the fight scenes are skillfully shot—but it is still depressing to realize he's the same guy who burst onto the scene twenty years ago with "Boyz in the Hood." Is this where he saw his career going? "Abduction" has plenty of problems, and the least of them, as it turns out, is Taylor Lautner.