In 1991, John Singleton was nominated for Academy Awards for both Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for his debut feature Boyz n the Hood. Twenty-four at the time, Singleton remains the youngest individual to be nominated for direction. He was the first African-American to receive an Oscar nod in the screenplay category. Not to discount those early landmark achievements, but two decades later Singleton is a director-for-hire. His latest piece of hackwork is Abduction, a box office dud from the fall of 2011 that is now available on Blu-ray. It’s an implausible action movie starring Taylor Lautner and has taken a merciless beating from critics. But the movie is watchable, buoyed by an interesting premise.
Lautner plays Nathan Harper, a very psychologically troubled teenager haunted by violent and disturbing recurring nightmares. Nathan’s psychiatrist, Dr. Bennett (Sigourney Weaver), constantly reassures him that he can conquer the dreams and move beyond them. But Nathan doesn’t feel he fits in at home and seems to sense a connection between his real life and the dreams.
His dad (Jason Isaacs) is intent on teaching him self-defense, to the point where their backyard sparring sessions approach physical abuse. Nathan’s mom (Mario Bello) doesn’t seem too concerned. One day while researching missing children for a school project, Nathan and his platonic friend Karen (Lily Collins, Phil’s daughter) come across a picture on a website that looks startlingly familiar. Upon closer inspection, the photo – posted on a “abducted children” website – turns out to actually be Nathan.
That’s the hook of the story: young man finds out he is not who he thinks he is. His parents are not his parents. And after a few phone calls, Nathan finds himself being pursued by both mysterious Serbian terrorists led by Nikola Kozlow (Michael Nyqvist, better utilized in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) and the CIA, led by Agent Frank Burton (Alfred Molina). Nathan doesn’t know whom to trust and quickly finds himself running like a scared fugitive.
This isn’t a bad start at all, suggesting a Hitchcockian suspense thriller for the teen set. I specify “teen” because despite the presence of a rather formidable supporting cast, the main attraction here is Lautner. The movie clearly hopes to interest members of Team Jacob above all else. Lautner isn’t likely to gain any new fans with his workmanlike performance in Abduction. But the strategy is obvious: Lautner is meant to rope in the teens and preteens, while the heavier-hitting mature supporting cast will pique mom and dad’s interest.
The plot quickly becomes unbelievable as Nathan’s mysterious past unravels. No fair going into details, because even though it is hard to swallow, the reasons why the Serbians want Nathan dead are the only reason to keep watching Abduction. For awhile, Shawn Christensen’s screenplay maintains a balancing act even with the mounting absurdities. But I found myself baffled by the convoluted motivations of both Kozlow and Burton.
Suffice it to say, though, Nathan eventually discovers the truth about who his parents are. And his longtime platonic relationship with Karen has blossomed into much more. But by the end of the film, I found myself having great difficulty making sense of the whole thing. Abduction is an intriguing premise that was poorly executed.
Like so many lackluster movies of the Blu-ray era, Abduction is a very well-polished turd. There’s nothing worth complaining about when it comes to the 1080p AVC encoded transfer. In fact, the movie looks outstanding in every way. Abduction is boasts an unusually varied color palette for a dark, moody thriller. As well-worn a cliché as it is, the colors do seem to pop from the screen, especially the rich, complex greens of the foliage as Lautner works his way through the forest. Sharpness is remarkable, as is fine detail, though in a way they are somewhat wasted on such a stilted movie. After all, what good is the ability to discern even the subtlest of nuance in expression when the actors’ faces fail to register a significant range of emotions? Still, the high level of technical quality provides at least something of interest for viewers to focus on long after they’ve tuned out of the silly plot.
No less spectacular is the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, which does all the things an action soundtrack is supposed to do. While all the surround sound bells and whistles in the world can’t pump genuine excitement and suspense into limp storytelling, it helps create a more interesting experience.
Music and effects are present in a very big way, with one of the more active soundscapes I’ve heard in a while. Take for instance a scene early on where Lautner’s parents are engaged in a fight in their own home. The bombardment of effects is nearly chaotic, with punches and kicks landing, music pounding away furiously, and ultimately a large, LFE channel rattling explosion. Dialogue is perfectly intelligible throughout, no matter what level of activity is present in the surround channels. This is a powerhouse mix that is arguably a bit over the top, but it helps compensate for what’s lacking onscreen.
Taylor Lautner fans will be most interested in the featurettes that accompany Abduction on Blu-ray. The most substantial, though that’s not saying much, is “Abduction Chronicle,” a production diary of sorts. The 18-minute piece follows Lautner around on the set, giving a behind-the-scenes glimpse that goes a little bit beyond the standard EPK piece. The shorter “Initiation of an Action Hero” finds Lautner discussing the physical challenges encountered while starring in an action film. “The Fight for Truth” is a run-of-the-mill puff piece about the production. The gag reel, strangely entitled “Pulled Punches,” is pretty lame (but then again, most are). The Blu-ray boasts an “Abduction Application” that allows for watching the featurettes picture-in-picture while the movie plays.