Abduction - movie review
Who's saying what
The question is whether or not it's meant to be: has director John Singleton created an expertly-crafted skewering of action-thriller cliche, or is it just a Hollywood anxiety dream of terrible dialogue and inexplicable low-angle shots?
It must be the former; it has to be. How can people utter lines like "There's no time to explain" and it not turn out to be satire?
We first meet Nathan Price (Taylor Lautner) as he drives to a kegger with his friends; we can tell Nathan is a gung-ho sort because he rides on the bonnet of the truck, yelling "Whooo!" the whole way. Cool, ok.
At the party, the Young People do Young People things like play beer pong and jump in the pool with their clothes on. Nathan's friend Gilly (Denzel Whitaker) sells some fake IDs to a couple of Young People, who are pleased with their purchases, telling him "That looks swag".
Nathan makes brief but meaningful eye-contact with Karen (Lily Collins)... and then he wakes up, topless and holding a beer cup, on the lawn the next day.
His father Kevin's (Jason Isaacs) response is to pitch Nathan headfirst into a boxing session next to the pool, smashing him around the head until he pukes. Mum Mara (Maria Bello) laughs from the kitchen; those wacky men of mine!
Nathan visits his therapist, Dr. Bennett (Sigourney Weaver), to discuss his rage issues. Remarkably, "my dad punches me in the face for lulz" does not come up in the course of their session.
Soon enough Nathan is working on a school project "about websites" with Karen; during the course of their study session they find a kid on a missing persons website that looks like Nathan. We know Nathan is freaked out because the camera zooms in on his face.
Unfortunately for the Price household, Nathan and Karen's cyber-sleuthing has caught the attention of some Bad Eastern European Dudes from central casting, masterminded in their hacking operations by Russian Victor Kozlow (Swedish Mikael Nyqvist).
Because the rest of the Bad Dudes are presumably too busy stockpiling toilet paper and sardines to send back to the Motherland, two American Bad Dudes turn up at the Price household; just as Mara and Kevin are about to tell Nathan the truth about his adoption, the Bad Dudes start shooting up the place.
Nathan and Karen, who watched helplessly as mom and dad were dispatched, try to get some intel out of the sole surviving Bad Dude, but he only responds, "I'm not dying here, there's a bomb in the oven". Nathan and Karen open the Miele and, yes, there's a Looney Tunes-style bomb in the oven. With seven seconds on the clock! Kablammo, looks like Bad Dude is dying there after all!
Things only get sillier from there; Alfred Molina shows up as a CIA agent trying to retrieve Nathan's mobile phone (it contains a Matrix-style MMS full of "names"), which Kozlow also wants, and Dr. Bennett drives Nathan and Karen into the woods so they can go on the lam.
Abduction is truly, truly strange. Singleton and "cinematographer" Peter Menzies, Jr. favour low-angle shots, so that every scene seems to be being observed from underneath a coffee table (in one scene, it is).
A sequence on an Amtrak train is particularly bewildering and illustrative of the film's madness: Nathan and Karen mack for a while before they both declare how hungry they are. Karen ducks down to the snack car, considering a chocolate bar while saying - OUT LOUD - "Hmm, he might like that". A Bad Dude shows up and starts to beat her up, but not before pausing to wipe his nose. Nathan saves the day by beating the Bad Dude up and throwing him out the window, where he rolls the wrong way for the direction the train is travelling. Nathan celebrates by crushing the Bad Dude's glasses underfoot.
Nearly every scene is a nonsensical mush.
Molina's CIA agent wins the pair's trust by offering to buy them "a burger and a milkshake". (Could Abduction be the first film to truthfully discuss how hungry-making action derring do is?)
Nyqvist's ultimate bit of blackmail against Nathan is to tell him that "You will then be responsible for the death of all your friends... ON FACEBOOK!!"
The grownups of the cast seem to be in on the joke (if there is one), but the Young People don't fare so well: dear Lautner seems to have genuine trouble working out how to walk and talk at the same time - perhaps because he "just saw my parents murdered in front of my own eyes" - and Collins spends most of the movie with one eyebrow cocked like a tilde.
We may never know if Abduction is satire or misfire, but I spent the entire film wracked by gales of choking laughter.
One final clue in the mystery: Abduction's screenplay, by Shawn Christensen (otherwise known as stellastarr*'s lead singer), was secured by Lionsgate for $1m in one of those mythical bidding-war spec sales. Christensen is from Brooklyn, so it's more than possible that Abduction is a hipster's practical joke; "Let's write a terrible action movie and see if anyone buys it."
At least, that's the theory I'm sticking with, because I can't live in a world where anyone could write "I'm not dying here: there's a bomb in the oven" with a straight face.
- two stars
Join the conversation below