Abduction has a slick, twisty story and some strong actors—Jason Isaacs, Maria Bello, Alfred Molina. But the movie is consistently subverted by a teen-flick insistence on having its star, 19-year-old Taylor Lautner, bare his famous torso at regular intervals and utter humid, teenish things like, "Inside, I just feel different." Since Lautner and his father were involved in producing the film, it's not hard to imagine them torn in two directions, wanting both to enlarge his career beyond the Twilight franchise in which it caught fire, and to hold onto that series' largely teen-girl audience. So the picture is fundamentally conflicted. On one hand, there are no glittering vampires to hoot at here. (Thank you, God.) On the other, Lautner, poor devil, still can't get laid.
His character, Nathan Harper, is a high-school senior who lives with his parents (Isaacs and Bello) in a leafy suburb of Pittsburgh. Nathan is supposed to be alienated and unpopular (he's seeing a shrink, played by Sigourney Weaver, for his "rage issues"). But given the actor's flamboyant hunkiness and inhumanly bright smile, this is completely unconvincing. In any case, while researching a school sociology project with a classmate named Karen (Lily Collins, of The Blind Side)—a girl he has worshipped from afar—Nathan comes across a website devoted to missing children. On it, he sees an old photo of a little kid whom he recognizes as himself. He calls a tip line listed on the site, and we see the shady character who answers it immediately placing another call, this one to a grim-lipped heavy in London named Kozlow (Michael Nyqvist, of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series). Kozlow has been waiting a long time for this call, and he and some imposing associates quickly hop a plane to the States.
Just as Nathan's mom is admitting to him that she and her husband aren't his real parents, a pair of Kozlow's confederates make an explosive entrance, and Nathan and Karen are soon fleeing for their lives. Also stepping into the mix before long is a top CIA agent named Burton (Molina), who has long feared such a situation arising, and who must now find Nathan before Kozlow does.
The frantic chase to find Nathan's real father—who holds the key to all thus hubbub—has clear similarities to the Bourne movies, among others. (A furious smackdown in a compartment of a speeding train genuflects in the direction of From Russia with Love.) But while Lautner, a world-class karate champion in his even-more-youthful youth, acquits himself well in the movie's many action scenes, his bland demeanor and slightly squashed features hinder whatever attempts at emotional projection he may be making. And the director, John Singleton, helming his first film in six years, keeps whipping the action along mainly, it seems, to keep us from thinking too much about some of his odd shot choices and preposterous scenes. (At one point, Weaver's shrink smuggles Nathan and Karen out of a hospital behind a cloud of bobbling get-well balloons.) And then, as I say, there's the fact that despite a couple of secluded opportunities for Nathan and Karen to become more than just study buds, they somehow never quite get around to doing so.
The movie ends with a long and tedious sequence set at a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game. I'm not sure who won. But the audience with which I watched this misbegotten film kept up a steady rumble of rude groans and laughter throughout, so I can tell you it wasn't us.
Kurt Loder is a writer living in New York. His third book, a collection of film reviews called The Good, the Bad and the Godawful, will be out on November 8th from St. Martin's Press. Follow him on Twitter at kurt_loder.