The Twilight movies are so inherently stilted and bogged down by dialogue that it's impossible to judge acting talent in them. Even legitimately gifted performers, like Dakota Fanning or Michael Sheen, can seem flat with their caked-on vampire makeup. So until now it's seemed unfair to judge Taylor Lautner, the boy wonder who broke out as werewolf Jacob Black in the Twilight movies, and, much more so than his reticent co-stars, seemed happy to accept the mantle of teen stardom. Film franchises were set up for him, deals were struck, and if Lautner could prove himself outside the Twilight mega-franchise, a star would be born.
But unfortunately for Lautner and the people hoping to be in the Lautner business, his first star vehicle Abduction is dead on arrival, in no large part thanks to Lautner's dead-eyed, charisma-free performance. There are plenty of other things wrong with Abduction, from a script that often defies all logic to John Singleton's utterly lazy and incoherent direction, but it's a star vehicle without a star to guide it, a by-the-numbers action plot that's supposed to allow Taylor Lautner to show us what he can do. He can kick people and run away from bad guys just fine, but when it comes to expressing human emotion or giving even an ounce of star appeal, Lautner appears as stiff and confused as a middle-school kid caught unprepared in the school play.
He's surrounded by a whole raft of talented actors who, until the ludicrous plot mechanics deny everyone a reasonable chance of getting out of this movie unscathed, prove only to make Lautner seem more like an expressionless alien. Maria Bello and Jason Isaacs in particular, as Lautner's loving parents-- or are they??--establish a warm rapport and an undercurrent of intensity in a very short period of time. The action kicks off, though, when Lautner's character Nathan starts suspecting they're not his parents after all; given that his suspicions attract the attention of both the CIA and some vaguely sketched Russian baddies, you can probably guess that Bello and Isaacs don't stick around in the story much longer.
As Nathan goes on the run in the company of his neighbor crush (Lily Collins), he's tailed by two separate CIA agents (Sigourney Weaver and Alfred Molina) and the vaguely Russian baddie who's apparently the real threat (Michael Nyqvist). There's all kinds of back story about Nathan's real father, also a CIA guy, and the possibly shady motives of Molina's character, but I promise none of it matters; the entire story boils down to the MacGuffin of a phone containing top-secret information, supposedly "encoded" but visible whenever Nathan flips the phone open, as if it's no more than the old Nokia model's background screen.
Shot on a budget in the Pittsburgh area, Abduction has a nice, Fugitive-esque misty look to it, and every once in a while Singleton will peep from behind the camera and add some interest to an action scene, as in the big finale at the Pittsburgh Pirates stadium that's otherwise a bore. But there's no focusing on the positives once you've endured howler lines like "There's a bomb in the oven" or "You'll be responsible for the death of every friend you have on Facebook," and the best that can be said of Abduction is that it will probably get more laughs than any other film opening this weekend. Those laughs will probably mean the death of Taylor Lautner's fledgling career, but based on the evidence here it was only a matter of time before that happened anyway.
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