Can you imagine a film like Con Air, where the filmmakers weren’t in on the joke? That’s roughly what your head needs to be expecting should you pop along and see Abduction, a film that’s presumably part-intended to highlight the standalone action-movie credentials of Taylor Lautner.
It’s Lautner whose face is front and centre of the posters. It’s Lautner who is at the heart of the movie, at one point staring straight down the camera. And it’s Lautner whose shirt comes off for the first time in five minutes flat.
What’s odd, though, for a film called Abduction, is that there’s, er, not much abducting in it. That’s no story spoiler there, it’s just the title doesn’t really cover what the film is actually about. Instead, it’s actually the story of Nathan, played by Lautner, a seemingly everyday American high school kid, who likes to party, likes to ride on the front windscreens of cars, and likes to be looked at alluringly by girls. The script duly obliges on all counts.
Nathan’s dad? That’d be Jason Isaacs, a man who bashes a lawnmower with a vigour never before seen on the big screen. He’s the tip of an impressive ensemble of supporting actors, which also includes Sigourney Weaver, Alfred Molina and Maria Bello.
The big story posers, though, are these. Is Nathan actually living someone’s else’s life? Is everything as idyllic as it seems? And can there be an assortment of expensive Apple-branded products always on hand to demonstrate the answers to these questions?
It’s best to point out now that common sense and Abduction only seem to cross over by accident from time to time. Yet, even though the film’s plot appears to have been bashed together by the gluing of a few fag packets together, it sort of gets away with it for the first half hour or so. It’s so gleefully ridiculous, so lacking in logic, that its regular swings from mild intelligence to outright stupidity feel like something we should cherish. Say what you like about Abduction, and many will, but there’s certainly some fun to be had.
The problem, though, is that it dawns on you more and more that everyone involved is actually taking this seriously. That they genuinely believe Taylor Lautner has a vibrant future in action cinema. That the plot twists bear any kind of scrutiny, and that people talk in the manner of the characters in the film.
For Abduction to even begin to get away with that, it needs a central actor who can command the screen, and who has the charisma and believability to hold an action movie together. Sadly, Taylor Lautner is not that man.
Given that this is supposed to be Lautner’s breakout role from the Twilight franchise, it’s surprising that he doesn’t give the impression of being more invested in it. Instead, he gives a performance that feels like it was designed by some intricate Adobe software, or one where every third shot sees him looking into a horizon on the set of a catalogue shoot, narrowing his eyes as he does so. At times, we’re supposed to believe that he’s smouldering with rage, but there’s not even any sign of a box of matches, yet alone any smoke.
It’s not as if he’s incapable of turning in a performance. Valentine’s Day is a pretty crappy film, but Lautner is decent enough in it. Here, he’s asked to convey a range of quite dramatic emotions, yet he distils this down to simply staring from a slightly different angle, and awkwardly spitting out a line that never sounds threatening, or backed by any resolve.
You can’t help but sense that he’s rented a few recent Liam Neeson flicks, and rewatched the Terminators, and tried to channel a performance based on some of that. This does not, however, work.
It doesn’t help that the dialogue he’s given to work with is so deliciously ridiculous, inciting numerous guffaws at the screening we caught the film at. “I’m shaken up a bit” he says at one point, after an incident that should have left him doing far more than narrowing his eyes again, and attempting to look angry.
Furthermore, never has a movie character in so much peril shown so little urgency. And heck, he can’t even notice when his webcam activity light has come on, when he appears to be looking down the lens of the damn thing.
Behind the camera, John Singleton has a decent stab at livening things up, and he’s certainly no slouch when putting an action sequence together. But he’s hamstrung from the start here, working from a screenplay that feels like the pitch meeting scribbled down (the oven and the Facebook line are amongst the best examples), and a star who, let’s be realistic, is no gift whatsoever to action cinema.
By the end, the supporting cast rally a bit, but even then, at the dramatic denouement, the dialogue is unintentionally utterly hilarious.
In the early set-ups, and sporadically across the film’s running time, Abduction bubbles up to offer some solid entertainment, even if it’s not quite the entertainment you feel its filmmakers thought they were making. But there’s little getting away from the fact that this is a desperately below average action film, with the olive branch of some very big chortles. Taylor Lautner will make better films like this, and might yet stand a chance of breaking out a standalone leading man career.
For now? It might be best if he keeps taking his shirt off. He’s on safer ground there.