With John Singleton’s Abduction, we get one of those movies that attempts to transition a ‘tween sensation—in this case, Twilight series star Taylor Lautner—into the world of grown-up movies. These movies are often useful in separating the wheat from the chaff of Hollywood talent. We’ve already seen, for instance, Lautner’s Twilight co-conspirator and fellow Tiger Beat centerfold Robert Pattinson stumble both critically and commercially in more serious-minded grown-up fare like Remember Me (2010) and Water for Elephants (2011). In terms of helping Lautner’s credibility, Abduction doesn’t help.
Here, Lautner is going for full-on action star, rather than the brooding dramatics that Pattinson has favored in his post-Twilight career. I appreciate that Lautner—or his career-advising braintrust—is playing to his strengths. Unfortunately, Abduction is on the same level as Lautner’s talent: A big, steaming pile of musclebound dumb. Lautner plays Nathan, a hunky-yet-socially awkward teen who—after stumbling onto a missing-kids website—begins to think his parents (Maria Bello and Jason Isaacs) might not be his birth parents. He turns out to be right, of course, since his real parents were not only CIA agents, but CIA agents with enemies who soon want Nathan dead. So Nate must go on the lam, hiding out from nefarious Serbians and duplicitous government agents.
Most of this is an excuse for Lautner to flaunt his badass side, as he pummels the bad guys and woos his teenage classmate Karen (Lily Collins, Priest). In both cases, the film’s sole raison d’être seems to be proving to the world just how manly Lautner is. I’ll give Lautner—and the film—credit for only giving him two scenes where the plot forces him to take his shirt off. (With a title like Abduction, I was worried about getting 90 minutes of our star doing crunches.) The rest of the film, however, lacks this same tact. Instead of positioning Lautner as an adult action star, the film is instead aimed squarely at pandering to his teenage fanbase, meaning Abduction skirts the line between a hard-edged beat-‘em-up and a doe-eyed romance. People die left and right, characters get shot, but there’s nary a drop of blood. Meanwhile, the romance is laughably awkward, seeming like it was lifted from the dog-eared notebook of a teenage girl who dots her i’s with hearts.
The end result is a film that feels like a bargain-basement mix of a less-artful Hanna (2011) and a less-cosmopolitan Bourne film. Even this might’ve worked as goofy entertainment if it weren’t for Lautner, who lacks any kind of leading-man qualities. He oozes dopiness to the point that it almost seems like someone bored a hole in him to let it run out, and he has the onscreen charisma of a lawn chair. Singleton seems to know this, propping him up with vets like Sigourney Weaver and Alfred Molina, but this only emphasizes just how far out of his element Lautner is. He should be gracing the cover of romance novels, not starring in action flicks. Unless you’re a fan of Lautner, Abduction should be passed over for any of the better action movies out right now. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense violence and action, brief language, some sexual content and teen partying.