Tackling “Twilight” heartthrob Taylor Lautner’s first starring vehicle, “Abduction” director John Singleton knows exactly what he’s expected to provide: The film’s first reel includes scenes of the star strutting shirtless, winning a kickboxing match, winning a wrestling match and tearing around on a motorcycle. (Auds will have to sit tight for the extended makeout scene, or the cuddling in the woods with a raven-haired teenager.) Aside from such dutiful fan service, the film is a haggardly slapdash “Bourne Identity” knockoff, never rising above the level of basic competence. Lautner’s fans should line up in droves; other demos may go missing.
Developed from a spec script by indie-rock bandleader Shawn Christensen, the film’s plot is not without promise. Curiously groomed by his parents (Jason Isaacs, Maria Bello) to be razor-sharp in the arts of self-defense, Nathan (Lautner) is a good-natured all-American hotshot, leading a perfect life aside from some tongue-tied reactions to girl-next-door Karen (Lily Collins) and occasional meetings with a shrink (Sigourney Weaver) to deal with his temper issues.
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While doing research for a school project with Karen, Nathan spots a picture on a missing-children website that looks suspiciously like him as a tyke, right down to the stain on his shirt. No sooner has he confronted his parents with his suspicions than they’re both rubbed out by assassins, and Nathan and Lily are on the run, in search of Nathan’s true identity while evading both a weary CIA chief (Alfred Molina) and a sinister Serbian underworld boss (Michael Nyqvist).
As unoriginal as it may be, this premise could have been taken in a number of directions. The notion of suddenly discovering one’s parents are imposters is a disturbing one, and thrusting a teenager into the world of fast cars and groovy gadgets could make for freewheeling escapism. But “Abduction” is as uninterested in psychological unease as it is in innovative action, and simply shuffles together explosions, bloodless fight scenes and incongruous romantic interludes with little regard for orchestrating tension.
Most exasperating, the protagonists’ IQs tend to dramatically rise and fall depending entirely on whether the plot requires them to gain, or surrender, the upper hand. At times they’re somehow smart enough to navigate tangled CIA intrigue and escape professional hitmen, but at others one half expects them to pause for a skinny-dip in Crystal Lake.
Lautner’s physique is put to the test (the martial-arts-trained actor did his own stunts), but his acting chops never get much of a workout, and there’s nothing here to suggest whether or not the actor can sell a film that requires him to do more than flex and smolder. Co-star Collins seems rather out of her depth, however, and vets like Weaver and Molina appear to be sleepwalking through.
Coming six years after his decent last feature, “Four Brothers,” Singleton’s directorial hand betrays a bit of rust. In early pictures like “Higher Learning” and “Boyz n the Hood,” the helmer’s high-wire pacing seemed perfectly in line with his refreshing youthful exuberance; he’s now more subdued, but no more polished. His cutting is quick but his staging is flat, never allowing the action or the romance to develop any weight.
Pittsburgh locations provide a nice change of pace, even when they’re presented as aggressively as the Pirates’ PNC Park is at the climax. Tech specs are generally mediocre, and Edward Shearmur’s turgid heavy-rock score only accentuates the film’s straight-to-video style.