Somewhere between winning an Academy Award for his screenplay for
2000's "Traffic" and writing and directing "Abandon," first-time filmmaker
Stephen Gaghan must have suffered a brain aneurysm. How else to explain
such a drastic drop in quality or even cohesive storytelling? "Abandon"
is a tepid, bland psychological thriller without thrills or even much
of a plot. The film aimlessly wanders from one scene to the next,
lacking any sense of energy or driving force for why the viewer should
care at all about what is happening. Not that much is happening to begin with.
Katie Burke (Katie Holmes) is approaching the end of her college career
at an elite university, but with quick-approaching finals, a major
thesis deadline, and an offer to work at a New York law firm, anxiety
has started getting the best of her. Things only go downhill when
she is approached by police detective Wade Handler (Benjamin Bratt),
who has restarted an investigation into the sudden disappearance of
her boyfriend, Embry (Charlie Hunnam), two years earlier. Suddenly,
Katie is haunted by visions of Embry around campus. Has he really
returned, playing a sick mind game on her, or are her past memories
simply getting the best of her?
The premise of "Abandon" holds promise, as do the attractive production
values, but its delivery is a complete mess. The biggest offender
in "Abandon" is its sheer boredom, and the second is a plot that doesn't
have any idea how to be carried out in an interesting fashion. For
the majority of the film's running time, it is understandable if viewers
begin to question where the movie is going or what it is even about.
Deliberate pacing can be effective, but there needs to be something
or someone to grab onto and identify with. The characters that litter
"Abandon" are cookie-cutter creations from the generic assembly line
of Screenwriting 101. If any of them possess life, don't get too worked
up; it's only a cursory mistake.
Katie Holmes (2000's "Wonder Boys") may be mostly known as the star
of TV's "Dawson's Creek," but she has continually impressed with her
feature film work, both from a performance standpoint and the choices
she has made in what she tackles. When someone as natural, beautiful,
and fresh as Holmes is the lead in a movie and even she is a dullard,
you know you're in trouble. As the ambitious but overwhelmed Katie,
Holmes only gets a handful of chances to do more than react to the
obligatory things going on around her.
As investigator Wade Handler, Benjamin Bratt (2000's "Miss Congeniality")
continues to get high-profile roles for nothing much more than his
darkly handsome looks. The romance that sparks between Katie and Wade
is preposterous and inappropriate. Their love scene, particularly,
has to be one of the most sterile moments in any film this year. The
rest of the cast--filled with several up-and-coming young talents
like Zooey Deschanel (2002's "The Good Girl"), Gabrielle Union (2000's
"Bring It On"), and Melanie Lynskey (2002's "Sweet Home Alabama")--is wasted.
The surprise twist at the end of "Abandon" admittedly fooled me, but
even it was anticlimactic, awkwardly staged, and ludicrous. For a
motion picture that starts off introducing a bright and informed young
woman and concludes by cheapening her every previous moment onscreen,
the aftereffect is unforgivable. Not nearly as unforgivable, however,
as unleashing such a rudimentary dud as "Abandon" into theaters nationwide.
Audiences who unsuspectingly stumble in won't know what him them 99 minutes later.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman