Movie Information

Genre: Thriller
Director: Stephen Gaghan
Starring: Katie Holmes, Benjamin Bratt, Charlie Hunnam, Zooey Deschanel, Melanie Lynskey
Rated: PG-13

A surprising number of laughs can be had in Traffic-author Stephen Gaghan’s directorial debut, Abandon. Unfortunately, most of them weren’t intended.

The incredibly muddled screenplay includes such amazing moments as our heroine (well, sort of) Catherine Burke (Katie Holmes, The Gift) telling her shrink (Tony Goldwyn) how she’d awakened in the library late one night and been stalked and pursued, only to be told, “Falling asleep in an old library is a terrifying experience under the best of circumstances.” Obviously, this man has a very low threshold for fear, or has visited some pretty peculiar libraries in his time.

At another point in the laborious proceedings, ever-so-cool detective Wade Handler (the colorless Benjamin Bratt) tells the terrified Catherine that she can “hang out” with him in his apartment, and promptly starts reading a Graham Greene novel. As if to retaliate, Catherine snatches up a handy copy of Camus’ The Stranger and settles in for a read. These folks may not have a clue about being sociable, but damn they’re sophisticated! (Somehow I more-readily believed in the reading material of the Jamaican drug dealer in The Rules of Attraction — unfortunately, the dictates of good taste prevent me from saying more.)

Even without such nuggets of amusement, Abandon would be a loser. It’s a silly, by-the-numbers thrill-ride that’s so obsessed with trying to be “profound” that it loses sight of any credibility — and, worse yet, it loses sight of that most basic of thriller requisites: the thrills.

The setup itself is no great shakes. Rich and brilliant student (more like rich and spoiled little twit) Embry Langan (Charlie Hunnam, Queer As Folk) disappeared two years earlier, and the institute slated to inherit his vast wealth prods the police to step up the investigation so they can have him declared dead and get the moolah. Enter Detective Handler, who starts digging into the past by questioning Embry’s friends, focusing on former girlfriend Catherine, who soon starts catching glimpses of the missing heir, and he appears to be stalking her.

As the investigation progresses, Catherine’s encounters with Embry become more and more involved, until he finally reveals himself — but only to her. That, however, is the tip of the convoluted iceberg where this film is concerned. Once we learn — if indeed we do, since the film operates squarely on the truth-or-illusion-which-is-which formula — that Embry’s still wandering around, what little mystery there is (other than why Catherine ever had anything to do with him) evaporates, so the movie has to create another mystery. All of this is tightly packed with an astonishing collection of improbabilities, including a soon-to-be-demolished, obviously unsafe dormitory with a flooded basement where characters wander in and out at whim with nary a hint of an attempt to keep them out of the place.

Now, all of this apparently isn’t what the film is about. Oh, no. Just as Signs was — according to its maker — not really about an alien invasion, but about faith, so Abandon isn’t really a thriller. Instead, it’s a pseudo-deep-dish exploration of the psychiatric scarring Catherine suffered, at age 3, when her father abandoned her. We know this was very traumatic because the film keeps flashing back to grainy, slow-motion footage of her watching her father leave one snowy day.

In its favor, the film is reasonably well-acted, and supporting players Zooey Deschanel (The Good Girl) and Melanie Lynskey (Sweet Home Alabama) actually manage to create interesting characterizations. Yet by the time the film trudges its weary way to its laughable conclusion — preceded (thanks to its jumbled flash-forward-flash-back structure) by a laughable aftermath and followed by an incredibly cheesy tag scene (where’s a good basement of stagnant water when you need one?) — you realize you’ve wasted 99 minutes on nothing more than an overproduced variant on a teen slasher flick.

My advice: Save yourself the 99 minutes.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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