Friday, September 30, 2011


MPAA (PG-13) CNS/USCCB (A-III) Fr. Dennis (2 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -

Abduction (directed by John Singleton and written by Shawn Christensen) is a teen-oriented spy / conspiracy thriller about a teenager named Nathan (played by Taylor Lautner).  About to enter his senior year in high school, he has "some issues."  On the one hand, he's seeing a psychologist, Dr. Bennett (played by Sigourney Weaver) because of anger issues.  On the other hand, he's a star on the wrestling team and his father, Kevin (played by Jason Isaacs), seems obsessed with raising him to be a tough guy able to physically defend himself in almost any situation.  The result is that most of the other students in school are kinda scared of him, including cute cheer-leading neighbor Karen (played by Lily Collins) who liked him before, ages back in 8th grade, but just finds him a bit too weird/dangerous now.

What's going on in Nathan's head?  Well he keeps having a recurring nightmare about a dark haired woman, who looks completely unlike his blonde haired mother, Mara (played Maria Bello), but still kinda feels like a mother figure taking care of him.  In the dream, his peace is disturbed when a cloud of gas enters the room, and the dark-haired mother figure collapses even as she reaches out to him (or is she pointing?). Nathan saves himself  by hiding under a bed.  Recalling to Dr. Bennett this recurring dream, Dr. Bennett tells him "Well, sometimes it's best not to dig too deeply into these things." (!!) What kind of a psychologist is this woman?? ;-).  And there it is, something is deeply wrong here.

Both Nathan and the audience begin to get some answers when Nathan (and Karen) are given an assignment in their sociology class to write a report on missing-children hotlines.  To their surprise, one of the missing-children's sites showing a computer generated picture of what a child abducted years back could look like today looks just like Nathan.  Nathan recognizes even more.  In the "last seen" picture of the little boy, the boy in the picture is wearing a shirt that he recognizes (down to a stain on a shoulder) that his mother had kept (along with some other toddler/baby stuff of his) in a box in the garage.  What's going on?

After "sleeping on" this strange news, and talking about it the next day to one of his few buddies in school (who points out another oddity in Nathan's life: why does Nathan have only 1-2 pictures from when he was a baby/toddler when almost everyone else has hundreds?) he decides to ask his mother Mara about it.

She starts to cry saying that she knew this day was going to come and to asks him "just understand that the story's complicated."  She doesn't even start to give an explanation when a Slavic-sounding hit team breaks into to the house and ma, suddenly nearly as good a martial arts expert as dad, defends herself for at least a while, before succumbing.  Dad just coming home from work is killed as well.  Nathan, with all the starnge martial training that he received from his dad is able to take down the head of the hit team, even as Karen comes to the home ringing the door bell (to work on "missing children" project).  Nathan grabs her and they run through the house to the back, even as they hear a bomb ticking.  They jump into the pool in the backyard as the entire house blows up (with even the dead/wounded hitman inside).  What the heck just happened?

Soon Nathan and Karen running away from the still burning ruins of Nathan's house, soaking wet from jumping in the pool, when a car pulls up next to them.  The door opens.  Inside is Dr. Bennett.  She tells them to trust her and jump in.  They do.  Soon the three are being chased as well.  Again, what's going on?   She tells them a bit of situation, obviously that Kevin and Mara weren't Nathan's parents, that the dark haired woman in Nathan's dream was Nathan's actual mother and that Nathan's father was a CIA agent as was Dr. Bennett.  Beyond this, she tells them that the situation was very complicated, to not trust anyone (including even herself).  Finally, she gives Nathan an address where he would get more answers.  Then she slows down the car and orders the two to jump-out (into a sloping wooded ravine) before speeding away.  The rest of the movie follows ...

As in most movies of this kind, the audience is invited to "go for the ride" and to render its judgement about whether or not the movie ultimately makes sense, whether all the loose ends in the story tie together.  And I'd like to let the readers here who go to see the to decide this for themselves.

This movie also plays on a fairly popular premise in American movies over the last 20 or so years, the premise being "an ordinary person" turns out to not be not that "ordinary" after all.  Rather he/she turns out to be quite extraordinary.  Consider in the classic movie of this type, Under Siege (1992), actor Steven Seagal is first introduced as a lowly cook serving on an American battleship.  When the battleship is (quite prepostrously) taken over by a group of foreign sounding "terrorists," the "lowly cook" reveals his true identity.  He's actually a former Navy Seal (who for whatever reason decided walk away from the Navy Seals even if not from military life altogether).  Once he drops the "lowly cook" vaneer the "terrorists" don't stand a chance.   The same formula was used more recently in a fun Disney animated film The Incredibles (2004) where an ordinary, even boring, family turned out to be extra-ordinary (I loved The Incredibles ;-).  Finally, most recently the same formula was invoked in the recent Liam Neeson movie Taken (2008), where "dad" or even a "overly protective dad" turned out to be much more than just a hopelessly boring, "out of it" father, but rather a former CIA assassin who ends up killing half of France to save his daughter after she gets abducted by some really bad sex-trafficking mafia toughs.  So here too, in Abduction, Nathan turns out to be far more than "just a teen with anger issues."  He finds himself (and soon to be his girlfriend) caught-up in one heck of a conspiracy, one heck of a "first date" as he tells Karen near the end of the film.

Yes, it's kinda narcissistic.  And I do believe that a good part of Christianity and especially Catholicism is about declaring that "ordinary" is good (Bl. John Paul II wrote a beautiful reflection on St. Joseph, noting that next to nothing was known about him other than that he was "a carpenter" and "a just man" noting that to God, who entrusted his only Son, Jesus, to his care, that _was enough_).  And in my life as a Catholic priest, I have buried hundreds of good, _ordinary_ people.

Still as a teen oriented movie, I see a value to it.  Teens, as people who "have their whole life in front of them" have a right to dream.  Also, I do believe that budding relationships are (and ought to be) built around some kind of a story / adventure.  When people ask "How did you meet?" it's nice if there's a story there.  So even if the movie's certainly a bit exaggerated, I do think it makes for a nice teen-oriented film.

Note to parents: there are some (and repeated) references to some early, probably somewhat sexual exploration between the two characters Nathan and Karen.  What it actually was, is left unclear.  So parents ought to probably note this ("Ahem ...") but then probably leave it alone, or use it as an invitation to talk about such matters.  Certainly it should be made clear to all young people that at 8th grade (and really through all of high school) children are still not ready (at all...) to have kids themselves.  So "exploring" too much is really not a great idea.  Instead it'd be better to seek a "great adventure" like perhaps in this film than "doing something stupid in the boat house" that one would quickly regret even the next day.

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