Odds are John Singleton doesn’t know he’s made one of the funniest films of the year. Extravagantly clueless in all its conspiracy-theory camp, Abduction swiftly morphs from your average teen-heartthrob vehicle into the most egregious source of unintentional gut-busters this side of Forks, Washington. Out of context, it’s hard to convey the full, howling hilarity of so many numskull lines, as most don’t come to full blossom without logic-defying, stone-faced delivery from the actors and Singleton’s steadfast perpetuation of a tone that borders on slapstick. But know that this baby is a machine of quotability, a good one to catch if you and your friends like injecting gleefully horrendous movie dialogue into daily life. A more memorable exchange arrives during a slightly icky, Larry Clark-like make-out session on a train between teen-on-the-run Nathan (Taylor Lautner) and his jailbait-looking damsel, Karen (Lily Collins, daughter of Phil). “Wow,” Karen says after getting a taste of Lautner lips, “that was much better than in middle school.” “That’s because I know what I’m doing now,” Nathan croons in response. That Lautner actually knows what he’s doing is what Abduction seeks to prove, and, unsurprisingly, it proves the exact opposite. This kid can’t carry a movie any more than Abigail Breslin can carry a refrigerator. He’s got the look, yes, but even close-ups on that face are cause for laughs. What we have here is a movie that takes itself incredibly seriously, with a star who can’t be taken seriously for a second.
Lautner’s actorly technique consists of a small handful of tricks in steady rotation, including heavy breathing through the nostrils, accentuating T’s and gooing up inflections to boost his mildly effete, cool-guy drawl, and getting nasty with those bushy, furrowed eyebrows like a humorless Zoolander. All are put to use in the 19-year-old’s portrayal of Nathan, a moody high schooler who seems ostracized despite being the hottest kid on campus, and whose ongoing discomforts in both his home and his skin are validated when he and Karen stumble across a missing-persons website bearing what looks to be his baby picture. Are Kevin (Jason Isaacs) and Mara (Maria Bello) not really his parents? Is his real mother the woman appearing in those dreams he talks about with his shrink, Dr. Bennett (Sigourney Weaver)? Is the boy in the picture really wearing the same stained shirt Nathan digs out of the bottom of a drawer? After some paranoid, Blowup-style photo examinations, the burning questions are answered via the rushing in of various suit-clad gun-toters, who hack his webcam, raid his house, blow it up, and send him off on a riotous journey of emphatic plot propulsion, with the philosophizing Karen in tow (“A few days ago we were just a couple of high school kids,” Karen says as things get considerably worse. “It seems like a lifetime ago.” “It was,” offers Nathan).
Written by Shawn Christensen, whose day job is as the frontman of the indie rock band Stellastarr, Abduction is nothing if not amusing, and it actually finds some redemption in all that flagrant silliness. An extended escape sequence, which begins with a phone call in a hospital and ends with Nathan and Karen leaping out of Dr. Bennett’s car, is almost indescribably preposterous, a rapid-fire pinball game of priceless exposition that would make Howard Hawks blush. In her best comedic turn since The TV Set, Weaver actively slums it, reciting her lines as if trying to establish a snugglier version of the Mother voice from the Nostromo ship. It’s anyone’s guess what she’s doing here, or any of the supporting cast for that matter. Rounding it out is Alfred Molina as a duplicitous C.I.A. agent, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo‘s Michael Nyqvist as an Eastern European terrorist straight out of the early ‘90s, and Denzel Whitaker as Nathan’s offensive slave of a best friend. As the characters do Nathan, who’s wanted for collateral in an effort to steal precious intel from his secret-agent father, the established actors float around Lautner as if to exalt him as an invaluable commodity, and perhaps the biggest joke is that all of these gifted folks are kidding themselves.
As for Singleton, let’s just say we’re a long way from Boyz in the Hood. Displaying an alarming lack of subtlety, the man also responsible for 2 Fast 2 Furious and the Shaft remake seems profoundly unaware of how jolting zooms, nonsensical cuts, and graceless tracking shots are going to affect the emotional response to his film, and that says nothing of the thunderous drums and hectic rock that are blasted in moments of peril (if he’s aware of anything, it’s to make sure BMW gets every last frame of product placement). One assumes Singleton was going for his version of Enemy of the State, or maybe Minority Report, with Lautner putting a new movie-star face on the running man with no one to trust. But the film Abduction most closely resembles is actually Fair Game, a 1994 Billy Baldwin/Cindy Crawford dud and the guiltiest of guilty-pleasure garbage. All the parallels are in place: house explosion, inconsistent surveillance tracking, easily swept-up character deaths, train sex, canyon-sized plot holes, B-grade Cold War-era villains, and a model who really has no place on the big screen.