With his nasal voice, narrowed eyes, and brow perpetually furrowed as if focusing all of his attention on remembering his character’s lines and name, Taylor Lautner is hardly anyone’s idea of a movie star—save, perhaps, for his extremely white teeth. He looks and sounds like a parody of a himbo action hero from the early ‘90s, though not a very good parody.
But Lautner happened upon a supporting role in a low-budget teen movie that turned out to be the first Twilight, and through sheer perseverance hung on to the role as it expanded. In perhaps its most supernatural feat, the Twilight series has cast a career-boosting spell over all of its male talent, no matter how vacant (and the series is nothing if not an ongoing male vacancy competition). Hence, Lautner has been awarded an action vehicle of sorts with Abduction, and audiences the opportunity to see a near-amateur martial artist get top billing above the likes of Alfred Molina, Sigourney Weaver, Maria Bello, and Jason Isaacs.
All of these experienced actors play mentors and/or antagonists opposite Lautner’s Nathan, a regular kid who finds out that he was adopted and that his parents (Bello and Isaacs) aren’t who they say they are. Before they can fully explain, their house is attacked, and Nathan must go on the run, Jason Bourne-style, with his longtime crush Karen (Lily Collins). They’re pursued by a variety of shadowy operatives, including Burton (Molina), a CIA man with questionable intentions.
You may wonder where the abduction comes in. In the rich ‘50s tradition of slapping an exciting title onto a virtually unrelated movie, there is not, in fact, any abduction in the movie Abduction. The title seems to come from early scenes where Nathan tries to figure out, with Lautner’s trademark expression of dim comprehension, why his face is on a missing persons website. But the possibility that Nathan could be a kidnapping victim isn’t just dismissed relatively early, when it turns out the website is a fake (so, yes, Nathan sets the story in motion essentially by falling for a phishing scheme). It’s barely addressed at all.
Abduction has its title (and its trailer) because the idea of finding yourself on a list of missing persons is an exciting B-movie hook. Unfortunately, no one involved could be bothered to actually make that movie. Director John Singleton will surely generate scorn for adding this movie to a resume that started with Boyz n the Hood, but it might be more practical to begin with asking why he couldn’t make another B-movie on par with Four Brothers or the Shaft remake. Perhaps he only read the cover page of Shawn Christensen’s screenplay, with its innocent promise of thrilling abductions, and failed to investigate further, say, its limited idea of what human conversations sound like. Lautner does the tinny script no favors—in an early partying scene, he’s spectacularly awkward, and in general seems most comfortable when engaging in his go-to move of aw-shucks shirt removal—but the filmmakers err in not keeping him strong and silent.
If some blame must fall on the star, or at least his management’s apparent insistence on conferring on him such status, it is the filmmaking that keeps Abduction more laughable than it is exciting, and even more boring than it is laughable. Lautner does have exploitable strengths; he can do karate and Abduction takes pains to set Nathan up as capable of defending himself. Yet unlike Lionsgate stablemate Jason Statham, Lautner’s 30-second fights show no personality and little physical presence apart from a few high kicks.
An aggressive play to solidify Lautner’s stardom, the movie also adheres to modern sequel-teasing regulations by withholding information (like the face of Nathan’s real father) throughout. Abduction, full of indifferent chases and clumsy intrigues, feels like a warm-up, a vague promise that some day, Lautner might make an action-thriller. After all, he can run and smile like Tom Cruise, he can kick like Jean-Claude Van Damme, and he can glower like John Cena. All that’s missing is pretty much everything.