Given that by the time it was finished the Bourne franchise had cleaned up close to $1 billion at the box office, it’s surprising there haven’t been more hands clamoring to retool the basic idea for the teen market, home as it is of the empowering, wish fulfillment, fantasy flick. Perhaps it’s the wide-open nature of the playing field that made Lionsgate feel so secure that they could get away with something this shoddy, plodding, and derivative. As an action movie, Abduction is frustratingly inert. As a thriller, it’s decidedly uneventful. And as a launching platform for tween heartthrob Taylor Lautner, well, that young man better hope Stephenie Meyer has a treatment for a werewolf spin-off kicking around somewhere because this is just painful.
Things start out promisingly enough with a standard Hollywoodized trip to suburban Pensylvania, home of Nathan Harper. Other than some briefly alluded to rage issues and a reoccurring dream of a woman he can’t quite place murdered in a hotel room, Nathan’s existence is a carefree one; dirbikes, pool parties, beer pong, and cute girls next door. He can also kick some serious ass, as demonstrated in a backyard sparring session with his dad (Jason Isaacs) that would be considered child abuse in Somalia. Then thanks to a chance glance through a missing person’s website researching a high school sociology project Nathan begins to suspect his “parents” may not be all they say. Sure enough there are soon agency stooges kicking down the door and blowing up the kitchen, rent-a-goon Euro thugs shooting at him, and Nathan finds himself on the run with the cute neighbor girl, Karen (Lily Collins), in tow not knowing who they can trust.
While Abduction is certainly aiming higher than both the hopelessly sanitized nonsense of Alex Cross, and the pre-pubescent antics of Agent Cody Banks, it’s clear from the clean-cut, bloodless nature of the violence that this is strictly PG-13 fare. But kids these days want ass-kicking action and second base, not pensive brooding from a couple of glorified gap models and a snatched snog in a train car (the scene cut short for the sake of certificate in a manner that would embarrass the writers of Glee). Instead director John Singleton, who has a proven track record of taking dangerous young men and finding a way to make their turmoil compelling (Boyz n the Hood, Higher Learning), shackles us to a character he hasn’t bothered to develop. Viewers, particularly the younger ones, are likely to spend an inordinate amount of time wondering when, if ever, something will happen beyond the picture drowning itself in deeply angsty daddy issues.
It’s not a stretch to suggest that Singleton, who hasn’t cashed a director's check since 2005, isn’t inspired by this material in the slightest. In fact, at times it seems as if he’s barely trying, given how shockingly lazy the movie’s own internal logic is. Basically the bad guys can have every single phone, camera, and computer in the United States under surveillance at any given time from the comfort of a hotel room, and are therefore able to just show up whenever the story calls for Nathan and Karen to be imperiled. Given that sort of freedom it’s all the more criminal that Singleton can’t even muster the enthusiasm to execute a basic chase sequence effectively. The unnecessarily complicated backdrop, that will bore and befuddle the movie’s target audience in equal measure, puts Nathan in the midst of a global espionage war where the weapon is “information.” It’s exactly the same idea Sneakers put out there in the early nineties, only that film knew how to be witty, smart, engaging, and above all fun. Here even the parkour seems phoned-in.
Lautner has previously named his idol as Tom Cruise, but while he has the shit-eating grin down to a fine art the rest is sorely lacking. What he does have, of course, are abs you could break concrete over, and the picture manages to hold out for almost an entire three minutes before contriving a reason to have him whip his shirt off. Maybe they should have stuck with that because when the lad is clothed he has precisely two modes of acting; confused and angry, and confused and sorrowful. Tragically there is nothing here in the way of a fawning Kristen Stewart or a pack of CGI werewolves to distract us, and poor Lautner finds himself ultimately surrounded by a grade-A supporting cast (Alfred Molina, Sigourney Weaver, Maria Bello), who one-by-one swallow him whole, a love interest who barely even registers, and a script that leaves him high-and-dry holding something of an empty bag.