The movie that “Abduction,” Taylor Lautner’s post-“Twilight” starring vehicle, most resembles is another action flick from years ago, also featuring an up-and-coming young actor. No, not “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lava Girl,” in which Lautner appeared as a boy (and would probably prefer to forget). And certainly not “The Bourne Identity,” of which some have suggested it’s a pint-sized clone. It’s “Out of Bounds,” a little-seen 1986 flop in which Anthony Michael Hall, fresh from his string of John Hughes high school smashes, came a-cropper as a Midwestern high school kid pursued by a drug kingpin and crooked cops whom had to outrun as he tried to save himself and a girl he’d met. The ludicrous picture—a specimen of what at the time was called kiddie noir (see also Judd Nelson’s contemporaneous “Blue City”)—pretty much sank what had been, until then, a promising career.
In John Singleton’s furious but sadly silly movie, Lautner plays a high school senior named Nathan, who sees his picture on a website devoted to missing children and goes forth to discover who he really is, accompanied by a pretty classmate and next-door neighbor Karen (Lily Collins), after some very sinister fellows break into his suburban Pennsylvania home and kill Kevin and Maria (Jason Isaacs and Maria Bello), the only parents he’d ever known. The search gets them into all sorts of trouble as they race around wildly to undercover the secret of his past and find his real family.
Hall, who was hoping to shed his geeky image, got in and out of outlandish situations in “Out of Bounds,” and although Lautner’s motive is very different—preserving his hunky appeal to adolescent girls—he does, too. It’s quite an endurance test that director John Singleton—an old, and accomplished, hand at frenetic action—has set up for him: a prolonged fight against a Serbian thug on a train and a long slide down a plastic ramp at the home stadium of the Pittsburgh Pirates, where the big finale is set, are only two of the more eye-catching moments that show off his physical prowess (though a very early fall from the hood of a truck, which sends him sprawling on the ground, is actually more impressive because it looks like it was caught in one real-time shot). Of course, the young girls in the audience will probably find the many times that he simply strips off his shirt more thrilling.
Inevitably, the script pauses periodically for quiet interludes when Nathan and Karen get close—nothing very revealing, you may be sure—and these are among the movie’s worst moments. The dialogue between the two is cliched and laughable, and the chemistry between them is nil. It was also a mistake to situate a full forty minutes of scene-setting prologue at the beginning of the picture. It’s excruciatingly dull, for one thing, but even worse it presents Nathan as pretty much a jerk, doing little that would endear him to anybody before the home invasion occurs. Of course, Lautner’s acting ability is so minimal that he couldn’t have made much of a better-written characterization anyway.
There are other adults besides Isaacs and Bello, both of whom come on rather strong, in the cast, but none of them raises the quality. Alfred Molina sputters and rants as the CIA agent on the kids’ tail—who may or may not be trustworthy—and Michael Nyqvist makes an absurd Bond-style villain as his evil counterpart, one of those shadowy dealers in weapons and information who have apparently limitless resources of cash, men, and nastiness at their disposal. Sigourney Weaver shows up to play Nathan’s shrink, a woman with secrets of her own, and is totally wasted.
The production values are generally pretty high-grade for this sort of stuff, with Peter Menzies, Jr. contributing sleek widescreen cinematography. But Bruce Cannon’s editing is too often limp, lacking the visceral excitement it should have helped generate, and Edward Shearmur’s aggressive rock score is oppressive rather than exhilarating.
In any event, though the movie is visually a slick piece of work, it’s so astoundingly stupid in storytelling terms that by the end you’ll be suppressing chuckles over its inanity. Even the title is meaningless, since it turns out that nobody was abducted after all. It took eleven producers to make this?