With the seminal 1991 message-movie Boyz N The Hood, John Singleton made a strong challenge to Spike Lee’s self-appointed title as the cinematic voice of black America. Twenty years later, Singleton has made Abduction, another story about a teenager with daddy issues, but this time, he’s firmly in work-for-hire mode. Perhaps not coincidentally, Abduction’s strongest scenes center on the simultaneously tender, aggressive, and fraught relationship between Twilight werewolf Taylor Lautner, a high-school student who has always felt out of place (with good reason), and father figure Jason Isaacs, a demanding, engaged patriarch who’s spent much of Lautner’s life training him for a destiny he can’t begin to understand. When Isaacs departs the film, he takes a lot of its soul and substance with him.
Lautner lends his usual air of feral intensity to the role of a typical teenage boy whose life takes a strange turn when he finds an image that looks suspiciously like him on a website about abducted children. Lautner soon discovers that his life and his family’s lives aren’t at all what they seem, and he embarks with classmate Lily Collins on a journey to discover his true identity. Alfred Molina picks up an easy paycheck playing a shadowy CIA operative, and Sigourney Weaver lends the film more dignity than it deserves as a therapist whose history with Lautner and his family goes a lot deeper than she lets on.
What teenagers haven’t felt out of place in their families? Abduction boasts a potent central metaphor for the alienation and dislocation of adolescence, but Singleton is less interested in exploring the allegorical or psychological dimensions of that premise than in hurrying Lautner from one indifferently executed setpiece to another. Singleton seems engaged only when dealing with the father-son bond, but even there, he transforms the film’s greatest strength into a cornball weakness by having Isaacs’ words of wisdom and counsel appear in Lautner’s mind during key moments, as if he were a more terrestrial Obi-Wan Kenobi. Singleton once radiated ambition and vision. These days, he seems to be aiming for mediocrity at best. Even by those extraordinarily lenient standards, the inessential, perfunctory Abduction falls short.