Taylor Lautner puts the abs in Abduction, but not much else. The new action-thriller is designed to help the star establish an identity beyond his sex symbol role as Jacob the werewolf in the Twilight series, which comes to an end next year. On paper, this story of a suburban kid who ends up tumbling through the rabbit hole of the Internet into a world of international espionage sounds moderately promising.
In practice, the movie is inept, the least competent effort in the uneven career of director John Singleton ( Boyz n the Hood, 2 Fast 2 Furious), whose uncharacteristic tentativeness suggests he wasn't sure whether he was directing an adult thriller or a Spy Kids movie.
Opening scenes see Nathan Price (Lautner), a loutish high school senior, carousing with his buddies and attending a drunken school party. He wakes up the next morning on a lawn with his shirt off (which raised cheers from his Twilight fans), and gets a ride home from his dad (Jason Isaacs) who, instead of giving him a stern talking-to, pushes Nathan into a strenuous workout followed by an interminable martial arts battle while a content mom (Maria Bello) watches through the kitchen window. Okay, that's odd.
It comes to pass that Nathan, while researching a school project, sees his baby picture on a missing children's website and surmises that his tough-love parents may be frauds. His investigation leads to a home visit from mysterious men, and soon Nathan finds himself on the run with his teen neighbour and crush Karen (Lily Collins of The Blind Side).
As we learn through jumpy cross-cut sequences, Nathan is being followed by a bad Serbian (Michael Nyqvist, best known for his role in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and a suspicious CIA agent (Alfred Molina), each vying to capture him for a digitally encoded list of names. Employing an inexhaustible supply of cellphones, surveillance cameras and tracking and listening devices, the pursuers fill up the dialogue with deadening talk of co-ordinates and interception points.
The idea here, apparently, is to create a sort of junior version of The Bourne Identity, in which the hero is on the move, attempting to discover who he is, but in contrast to the model, the action in Abduction feels devoid of urgency. Explosions rarely involve bodily risk; hand-to-hand fight scenes feel over-staged, and all the hot cars, chic safe houses and sexy train compartments are set décor. There are a couple of train sequences that stand out, but only for their awkwardness: A squirm-inducing episode where the young couple grind and grope a bit, but don't go all the way, apparently for ratings reasons. There's also a risible fight sequence, in which Nathan hallucinates his father coaching him through the punches and kicks.
Collins, all long hair and open-mouthed bewilderment, seems sweet but her character is underwritten. Lautner, for his part, seems stuck in werewolf mode – teeth-baring, squinting and chest-baring – failing to establishing the emotional foundation of a compelling protagonist.
Still, it would be unfair to blame the teen actor for not rising above the material. Veteran stars look weak here: Molina walks through his part with a half-ironic detachment; Sigourney Weaver, who pops in at the film's beginning and end as Nathan's shrink, drily intones her lines as if reading off a Teleprompter.
Whether the fault was haste or cynicism, Abduction feels like a movie designed to ride on the back of Twilight's phenomenal success, with held noses and paycheques all around.
- Directed by John Singleton
- Written by Shawn Christensen
- Starring Taylor Lautner and Lily Collins
- Classification: PG