By Gabe Toro | The Playlist September 22, 2011 at 12:05PM
In the future (it’s closer than you think!), celebrities will be an even bigger part of our society. While the pool of “famous people” will expand beyond movie stars, politicians and random public figures, we’ll find ourselves consumed by the public’s thirst for all things mega-famous. In this future, somewhere, someone will write a massive tome dedicated to the forehead of Taylor Lautner. Like the Monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” it is massive, and says everything and nothing. It sits on top of the scrunched up Zardoz-of-a-face that is this curious manchild, at once Cro-Magnon and, yet, every bit representative of his teenage years. It's going to be a helluva book.
“Abduction,” the latest from former director John Singleton, is a primo showcase for such a dome. Lautner, the star of the “Twilight” films with Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, has chosen a different path than that duo. While Pattinson has been delicate with the types of talent with whom he chooses to collaborate; Stewart has chosen smaller, character-centric indie dramas to boost her profile. The forehead, and the rest of Lautner, have opted for a high octane star vehicle, the likes of which we haven’t seen before: Lautner’s demographic might be of the kiddie-adventure “Cody Banks” school of entertainment, but “Abduction” places a premium on head snapping, bullet-soaring action.
Lautner is Nathan Harper, a ridiculously built high school senior who otherwise lives an unremarkable life in the suburbs with macho dad Jason Isaacs and vivacious housewife Maria Bello. Isaacs and Bello seem like the perfect couple, but when suited operatives attack the house, they jump into kung fu mode, defending their turf and their son. But they’ve arrived at the moment Nathan has begun to question his lineage, finding his photo on a missing persons website, suggesting he was taken from his family as a child.
As someone who has seen too many movies, the arrival of two thugs, the murder of his would-be parents, and the destruction of his home means that, instead of waiting for the authorities, Nathan hits the road with his possible new girlfriend Karen (glorified prop Lily Collins). When he makes a 911 call, it isn’t intercepted as much as answered by Agent Burton of the CIA, who was seemingly waiting around in the 911 dispatch offices waiting for Nathan to call. As Barton, Alfred Molina brings a bizarre calm to the rote lines he has to speak, and, for a minute, is a good enough actor to make you forget the plot doesn’t make sense. When he pleads for young Nathan to trust him, Nathan roars, “TRUST IS SOMETHING YOU HAVE TO EARN.”
Through circumstances too complex to illustrate, mostly involving Sigourney Weaver in a genuine career low as a Swiss Army Knife plot dispenser, Nathan learns he’s being targeted by Kozlow (Michael Nyqvist), an Eastern European goon who is searching for Nathan’s real father, a CIA operative who went off the grid and holds a super important MacGuffin. Kozlow’s plan, which somehow WORKED, involved placing Nathan’s face on a series of dummy websites, hoping Nathan would call in and report something. Which explains why “Taylor Lautner” is usually a top Google search.
Lautner is an impressive physical specimen, and the film seems dedicated to letting you know this as the camera lingers over his biceps repeatedly. It actually creates a serene effect when Lautner is silent, as that brow, and that small, frustrated face underneath suggest a deep fascination with events that surround him. He carries the same expression dodging bullets as he does when operating a laptop, in that he’s way out of his element, desperate to understand these arcane notions of human civilization. Watch “Abduction” on mute, and it almost seems like a studio remake of “The Enigma Of Kaspar Hauser.” Let’s face it -- the kid isn’t exactly safe at home with dialogue, nuance, or basic human behaviours.
Singleton has little interest in the smaller moments, so he limits dialogue to exposition, cliché, and transparent filler, allowing for the action sequences to take precedence. They’re not bad, in that they’re easy to understand and superficially solid at maintaining momentum. A highlight is a vaguely parkour-inspired chase through a crowded PNC Park, and for once the most illogical conceit isn’t the athleticism of the participants, but the fact that the stadium would be crowded when the Pirates play the Mets. Most of the time, the direction is barely functional, and the logic of non-action moments seems downright baffling: at one point, Nathan tells Karen they absolutely need to leave the forest and get into the river, where they wade in the shallow end for about forty five seconds to avoid enemy surveillance before returning to the trees. A similar scene features a character hiding two friends behind a handful of balloons in a crowded hospital hallway. The screenwriters have clearly studied Stealth 101.
“Abduction” culminates in a finale that clearly feels that they’ve set up Lautner’s Nathan as a John McClane-styled badass who may one day encounter danger again. There’s nary a consequence to this school kid who we just saw brandish a gun, throw a man out of a moving train, and survive his house exploding, with only a couple of bad guys taking the fall. With his brooding countenance, poor handle of emotion, edgy extreme sports leanings and general lack of accountability, it’s easier to see Nathan fit the bill of Kyle Steele, the NSA agent portrayed by Scott Speedman in “XxX: State Of The Union.” Which is to say, this may be our only adventure with a boy that might as well be a t-shirt with a forehead, an actor that makes Paul Walker look like Daniel Day-Lewis, and a script that might as well have been written on a cocktail napkin. [D-]