Abandon

Coming off his audacious screenplay for Traffic, Stephen Gaghan stumbles with Abandon, his intriguing but frustrating directorial debut. Marketed as a generic, teen-friendly thriller, the film is both more and less than it originally appears. At its most ambitious, it aspires to be a Vertigo for the Clearasil set, but it also plays as a dull variation on the Fatal Attraction-spawned thrillers in which everyday protagonists are forced to battle the babysitter, mistress, temp, or ice-cream man from hell. In an impressive performance that makes excellent use of what one character calls her "coltish vulnerability," Katie Holmes stars as a working-class college student approaching the anxiety-filled end of a distinguished academic career. Already antsy about a tough job market, Holmes is further shaken by the seeming re-emergence of the love of her life (Charlie Hunnam), a mercurial artist who mysteriously disappeared two years earlier, following a characteristically provocative, incendiary performance. Traffic's Benjamin Bratt plays a cop and recovering alcoholic who's assigned to track down Hunnam, but who ends up taking a romantic interest in Holmes. As a director, Gaghan alternates the downbeat, voyeuristic neo-realism of Traffic with bursts of extreme stylization, most notably in the Norman Rockwell-esque flashbacks to Holmes and Hunnam in happier times. Abandon recalls Traffic in other ways, too, particularly in some spacey drug talk and the snappy banter between Holmes and her overly articulate friends, who include Almost Famous scene-stealer Zooey Deschanel. Still, in order for the film to work emotionally, it's vital that Hunnam's character seem as seductive as he is off-putting, but he's alternately a cryptic cipher and a self-important asshole. Abandon's portentous tone and determined plot recalls M. Night Shyamalan's work, which makes it sadly fitting that the film resorts to a groan-inducing trick ending that combines cheap psychology and loathsome misogyny. Gaghan shows promise as a director, but Abandon leaves a lot of room for improvement.

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