Movie Review by Dan Keohane
After his “breakout” role as “Sharkboy” in THE ADVENTURES OF SHARKBOY AND LAVA GIRL 3D (2005) and a few smaller roles, teenager Taylor Lautner hit the big time as the shirtless werewolf in TWILIGHT (2008), NEW MOON (2009) and ECLIPSE (2010) and began the infamous Jacob versus Edward debate among a billion teenaged girls. This past weekend, he broke out from his hirsute role (and only occasionally his shirt) in the new action film ADBUCTION, playing a high school senior who discovers that his life had been a lie when he finds a picture of himself in an online Missing Children website. The website, however, is a trap set by the evil Russian (I think, never really said) mobster Kozlow (Michael Nyvqist). Nathan soon learns that his past, and his parents, have been a lie.
I watched the movie along with two major Lautner fans: my two daughters Amanda (16) and Audrey (14). As we settled into our seats my expectations were minimal. In fact, my early notes covered such critical points as the popcorn (it was really good), my risky choice of Raisinettes over Twizzlers (good choice), and how the trailer for HAYWIRE (2011) showed the whole friggin’ movie (I hate it when they do that; implies the film will not be very good).
Then the movie began and, to be honest, it got off to a good start. Lautner’s performance as a slightly wild but overall decent high-schooler was good. He had a few close friends, including Denzel Whitaker (THE BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL – NEW ORLEANS, 2009) as his spunky black best friend. This made me wonder (not for the first time) why films with a young white action star seem to require the character having a spunky black best friend, and why they have yet to make a film with an African American male lead who has a spunky white best friend.
I do also wonder sometimes what it’s like to grow up in the California school system, since Hollywood makes these kids seem like evil, drunken monsters. Yes, I was a bit of a conservative and nerd in school myself, pre-college, but there sure seems to be a lot of this in films, even supposedly taking place in Pennsylvania. Anyway, I digress. Where was I?
Lautner’s love interest and neighbor, with whom he’s had a crush on since they made out once during camp in middle school, was played by relative newcomer Lily Collins. Her performance was light and we all agreed not very strong. That’s OK, though, because Lautner overall needs a few more years of growth as an actor before he can really shine on the screen (with his shirt on, which was the case for all but a couple of obligatory quick scenes). Together, then, they worked fine, but both were not as impressive as some of the supporting cast.
My point with Lautner, and my daughters agree and, in fact, pointed this out to me, is that his overall presence on the screen is strong – he’s a good-looking kid and not cut from the usual action-hero mold, likely because although he has the body of Hercules, his face still has that quiet innocence of youth. But it’s the face that did him in this movie: his expressive range is not the widest road in town. It’s pretty much one look: halfway between a sweet smile and intestinal gas. This works sometimes, but not when he’s on the phone trying to tell the police about the awful things that had just happened to him (“parents” killed protecting him and his house was blown to bits). He should have at least frowned a little more. There was a scene later on when he wakes up after having been crying in his sleep. The eye drops must have just been put in place by the make-up artist before the director yelled “Action,” and they dripped down his face.
Ok, I’m not trying to be mean. But for an actor to be in every scene there has to be an ability to project emotion and drama without words, a simple look or twitch of the mouth. Lautner’s not there yet, but I think with time and training he will be.
As an action star who seems to do most of his own stunts, however, this guy rocks. The climax of the film takes place at a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game (which I thought added a lot to the film’s everyman-caught-in-a-web-of-intrigue atmosphere), and here his physical prowess truly carries every scene he’s in. Just don’t zoom in too much when he’s sad, that’s all.
I mentioned the supporting cast. Here, some made the film truly worth watching, and others did not. One in particular in this latter category surprised me. Sigourney Weaver (AVATAR, 2009, ALIEN, 1979, and about a hundred others), plays his psychiatrist-cum-protector. I’m a big Weaver fan – she never fails to add something new and watch-worthy to every role, but she was not good at all in this movie. Her performance felt forced and flat. Now ABDUCTION plays out much like a young adult film, which in many ways it was intended to be, since the star’s fan base is still going through puberty, and Weaver once shined in another YA flick, HOLES (2003), so I know she can have major chops in any film she puts her mind to. Just not this one.
Same goes with the head of CIA pursuing Nathan before the mob can get him, played by the Alfred Molina (SPIDER-MAN 2, 2004, CHOCOLAT, 2000?). Molina usually carries scenes well, but always as a dark, creepy type (in the above-mentioned credits, Dr. Octopus and the uber-repressed mayor of a small French town). His CIA chief was more annoying than anything. Ironically, the guy who almost didn’t get any credit in the film save for a couple short lines as one of the CIA agents, Jake Andolina (UNSTOPPABLE, 2010), was actually much better and very expressive without speaking. I think he would have been better cast than Molina and his Weird Uncle performance.
The actors who played Nathan’s “fake” parents. Maria Bello (A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, 2005) and Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy of the HARRY POTTER films over past decade, without the hair) were very, very good. Their early scenes (before the mob arrived) shined with their honest, powerful portrayals. Adding to this, and to Lautner’s credit, the young lead’s best performances as an actor were with these two people. Lautner’s and Isaacs’ sparring, Bello’s tender love for her son and her misery when he discovers the truth, were great scenes—were, in fact, the best performances in the film.
Michael Nyvqist (who played Mikael Blomkvistin the Swedish films based on the GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO book series) was good as the head mobster, though the part was as stereotypical as you’d imagine it would be. This is a good place to talk about some loose plot holes. Like the TV series 24 (2001-2010), the bad guys in this film have the most amazing tracking technology at their disposal. They can even spy on the CIA, and are constantly one step ahead of them. Just a little too good, you know? Also, during the climactic scene at the ball park, Nathan has managed to sneak something under his seat with duct tape before the game. How he did this, or how his buddy could have, was never said (because, of course, it wouldn’t have been possible). Lautner’s girlfriend (and this is the problem with many spy thrillers when a character in dire jeopardy is saved only by a quick scene cut), also should have finished up the second half of the movie with a few less fingers. I won’t explain why, but trust me, she should have (would have been too much for the fans, though, most likely) .
As mentioned, the climax at the baseball stadium was very cool. Overall, this scene was reminiscent of old James Bond / Hitchcock films. No, I’m being serious. It was well done (except for the thing-under-the-seat bit). Well-played by everyone including Lautner, who obviously also did his own stunts and shines in this kind of action-packed venue. His performance was appropriately intense, projecting the right amount of determination and nervousness to carry it off.
There’s no sex in the movie, and this was good. There was the obligatory make-out train ride scene mid-way through, but they were being hunted by killers and the filmmakers at least had the sense to realize Nathan’s first time would not have happened then. The characters just kissed passionately for a moment and then stopped and saved me from being embarrassed in front of my daughters.
One last complaint (among what I think has been an equally positive and negative review), and I won’t reveal the ending but: after everything was over and the credits really should have rolled, the filmmakers felt (wrongly) they needed another five minutes of everyone looking happy and smiling and acting syrupy. Honestly, it kind of ruined a lot of the impact of a pretty cool climactic scene. If a dénouement hurts the climax, cut it. Simple as that. Leave them wanting more, not less.
Overall, Amanda, Audrey and I were in agreement: ABDUCTION was entertaining, even with a few plot holes and occasional weak performances. They enjoyed looking at Taylor Lautner. I thought his performance was OK. No real range, which is needed for leading man, however. ABDUCTION is not going to win any major (or minor) awards, but it doesn’t suck, either.
I thought it was worth the admission price as along as you go to the matinee and make it a fun Daddy-Daughter(s) date. Which it was.
© Copyright 2011 by Daniel G. Keohane