Abduction!

He's gonna glower his way to freedom!
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
2011
Director: 
John Singleton
Starring: 
Taylor Lautner, Lily Collins, Alfred Molina, Sigourney Weaver
The Setup: 
Kid discovers that his parents are not his parents, escapes bad guys.
Discussion: 

So I heard that this was pretty bad, and of course it looked awful, but it didn't look quite bad enough or over the top enough to make me want to go catch it in the theater. But suddenly when it was on video it sounded ludicrous, and I had heard enough bad news about Taylor Lautner's acting, that I became interested. Turns out, as I suspected, it's not really bad enough to be good.

We open with our star Lautner as Nathan Price riding on the hood of a pickup truck driven by his friends, urging them to go faster. He is indeed a wild, risk-lovin', adrenaline-junkie teen who soon arrives at a party, doing a flip after being thrown off the hood, which might cause you to be like "Oh, so I guess Lautner is going to do many of his own stunts." The credits are unfolding during this sequence, which is where you get the information that this is directed by John Singleton. He started with Boyz in da Hood, and now he is directing this. I'm just sayin'. Anyway, there's a party featuring underage drinking and drug use, and you could almost miss that our teen Nathan is playing beer pong. Anyway, he passes out--shirtless, natch--on the lawn, and is picked up by his dad in the morning.

Dad is annoyed, and when they get home, Nathan is forced to go through some combat training, which he is not in the mood for, being hung over. Turns out Dad is forcing Nathan to be a martial arts dervish because of all the threats....? I mean, you know, umm, the threats of...? Anyway, Dad is training Nathan in extreme self-defense. Dad is Jason Isaacs and Mom is Maria Bello, who I think we all had higher hopes for. Across the street is sultry babe Karen, who Nathan seems to have some unfinished romantic business with. Nathan is in therapy with Sigourney Weaver as Gerry, to whom he confesses that he "feels like a stranger in his own life" and looks at his parents and is like "who ARE they?" Gerry hugs Nathan at the conclusion of his session, which is the least of the therapeutically-inappropriate things she will do.

Anyway, so Nathan is assigned to work with Karen on some project that requires them to look at a database of missing kids, where they soon find a kid that looks like Nathan. He goes downstairs and finds the shirt the kid is wearing in the picture--they VERY shirt, due to a noticeable stain--that his parents are holding onto for... why? Anyway, Nathan clicking on the kids' picture set off the servers of evil men in Russia, who hop on planes to come find Nathan. After a day of smoldering at school, Nathan goes home and confronts his mother, demanding the truth! And she, at last, reveals the shocking secret that--

SPOILERS > > >
She never liked Broccoli! And also: she's not Nathan's real mom! Furthermore--she's a cyborg! Actually she's not, but it would have been cool. She's about to get fake dad and they're going to come clean about the whole switched-at-birth thing, when who should come to call? Why, murderous Russian thugs. Mom reveals HER martial arts training (not impressive), but before you know it, takes two bullets. Dad also becomes the resting place of a few bullets. Happening over during the melee is Karen, who is all like "Oh my God!" and hands Nathan the fireplace poker to beat the remaining live thug and screech "Who are you?" in his best approximation of human emotion. The thug, unless I am mistaken, replies "I'm not going to die here--there's a bomb in the oven." Which DOES imply that he is going to die there, but let's not quibble. Nathan and Karen discover that there IS, in fact, a bomb in the oven, causing Karen to once again exclaim "Oh my God!" They depart from the house, which explodes just behind them (it was SOME bomb) the blast of which throws them both into the swimming pool, and surely you know one is perfectly safe from superheated temperatures and flying projectiles when a few inches under water.

So luckily Nathan's motorcycle wasn't anywhere in the vast blast radius that leveled the house, and he drives Karen to the hospital, where he calls 911 and is patched immediately to the CIA, prompting one of several utterances of "Wait--how do you know my name?" He meets Alfred Molina as CIA guy, as we see that the seething bad Russian, Koslow, is arriving in the United States. It's looking like curtains for Nathan when Gerry shows up with a bunch of helium balloons, which is precisely what is needed to evade high-tech security systems, just so ya know. Once Gerry has spirited Nathan and his lovely lady to the parking garage, she leaves her balloons with the kiss-off line: "I hate balloons." Take THAT, balloons! I'll bet balloons across the nation were put on a wake-up call after THAT, right? It's just an unscientific survey that sentiment has turned harshly anti-balloon in this country, and it's time for the balloon community to change its tune, or face a future of increased obsolescence. Piss off, balloons! Who fucking needs you? Although it may be true that, as they say, balloons are the only remaining acceptable prejudice.

So Gerry tells Nathan that she is a secret agent and one of the numerous people in place to monitor Nathan until he learns the truth about his parentage, and gives him an address to go to, and advises him to beware the CIA's Molina, as he's in on it. He also tells him to ditch the girl, but he won't! They have to jump out of the moving car while she speeds off, and from a distant explosion, it sounds like Gerry is now a charred cinder.

So this is one of those chase movies where they inexplicably have long stretches to spend on languorous character development, and Nathan and Karen bond as they walk along the river, and he shares his dream from the night before, and tries to convince her to move on alone, but she won't leave his side. They make it to the apartment Gerry advised them to go to, which they realize is Nathan's real dad's apartment, where Nathan gets a cell phone, and appropriates his father's leather jacket, which fits perfectly. We also learn that the cell phone contains the list of secret agents, an idea appropriated from the first Mission Impossible. Blah, blah, they get fake ID's from Nathan's friend who distributes them at school--one of those movie things in which teens find that their delinquent activities actually make them PERFECT to escape international agents--and hop on a train. There's a thug, there's a fight, Nathan defeats a baddie and dumps him off the train, they escape the train, are taken by the CIA, have a burger and get some more exposition, then there's another shootout and they escape again.

So you wouldn't know it from reading this review--or watching the movie, really--but Nathan has gotten to the point where he's going to take charge and confront the bad guy himself. He arranges this whole meeting at a baseball game, where he comes and sits right next to Koslow. Nathan has had his agents in the field tape a gun under his seat, and slowly eases it out... then slowly eases it back in, for no apparent reason, and when he goes for it again, finds it's not there! Well what, Nathan? Are you stupid? Then there's a chase through the busy stadium, and Nathan's dad is on the phone, telling him to get Koslow outside. This is where Nathan jumps onto this glass slope and slides down it, the image that made it to the poster for this movie, although the poster portrays it that Nathan is sliding down a glass skyscraper as deadly shards of glass splinter all around, gun drawn and ready, while really he just slides down a pedestrian walkway with no shards of glass to note. He gets Koslow outside, and it's kind of looking like curtains for Nathan, but not really, when Nathan's dad takes out Koslow from a distance.

Then Molina shows up and demands the list! Then HIS boss shows up and arrests him, because HE is on the list, and they know it, somehow, meaning that whole subplot just went nowhere and didn't amount to squat. Then Nathan has a tearful phone call with his father, who is within sight but cannot reveal his identity to the boy, danger, etc., but will be watching out for him from afar, blah, blah, and Nathan has to continue his journey into manhood without a father figure. Then Gerry shows up, still very much alive, and offers to adopt Nathan! This is indeed breaking the therapeutic frame, but there doesn't seem to be much concern for APA standards. Nathan tells Gerry to wait in the parking lot while he watches the rest of the game with Karen--taking advantage of his surrogate mother already--and he and Karen have their quiet moment, which I fast-forwarded through, and walk off alone under the credits, while you're like--aren't you supposed to meet Gerry? You're just going to walk off and leave her waiting in the parking lot?
< < < SPOILERS END

Yeah, so it was just considerably less fun than I had hoped. The script is a compilation of cliches from other movies, from the list of agents to the escape and love scene on the train, to the inclusion of a "good guy" who Nathan knows he can't trust, etc. Some of the story elements seem to be there just because that's what happens in these movies, although they end up coming to almost nothing here. It also veers between people getting shot and dying, showing us that this is like totally, totally serious, like FOR REAL, and also not having Nathan really use a gun and having his high school friends help him, making it lightweight and teen. And for these reasons and more it just kind of continues without much shape, run here, chase there, without much sense of development or feeling like tension is mounting.

Not helping matters is Lautner's essentially immobile face. Part of what made me think this might be a hoot is this passage from the New York Times review of this film, which said: "I can’t recall another teenage star so opaque. If his physiognomy — recessed eyes that don’t seem to focus, a wide snub nose and Elvis-y lips — conjure Neanderthal manhood after a cosmetic makeover, his boyish monotone with its utter lack of inflection suggests that he is really an advanced robot simulating human speech without registering emotion or even comprehension." You have to understand that the Times is usually fairly respectful and it's quite rare for them to come out with a straight-up insult like that. Yet it's true: Lautner can smile, or glower, and that seems to be about all he's got. He goes through all of these situations essentially just glowering, as though that somehow counts. Maybe the Russians will desist if they see that he's like, REALLY pissed off. The guy has two facial expressions to work with, and the ability to raise or lower his voice, making his emotional outbursts ("Who ARE YOU!?!?") sound like impotent tantrums. Lily Collins as Karen doesn't have much more to offer than winsome smiles, either. At one point she's supposed to throw her feminine wiles at a guard to get information, but rather than charming HIM, she bats her eyes with an air of "Aren't I just SO ADORABLE???" Oh dear, these kids today.

Still, with all this, the bad acting, the ludicrous story, it's only so amusing. It's just not all that fun, either purposefully or unintentionally. It's just kind of a long bore. Not good enough to get involved with, nor bad enough to get involved with. I suspect it'll be a lot more funny in twenty or thirty years. Let's just clap it away in a time capsule until then.

Should you watch it: 

Nah, not really.