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Perhaps "Twilight" heartthrob Taylor Lautner should get a series of films with titles that make a pun on his famous abs. "Abilene Nights"? "Abashedly Yours"? "Abacus Calculation"?
For now, we have Lautner's first stab at being a leading man in "Abduction," a consistently far-fetched thriller in which he plays a high-school teenager who's suddenly caught up in a world of lethal spies and corrupt CIA men. Though not an abject failure, one hopes it's an aberration.
Rest assured, "Abduction" isn't four minutes old when we get our first look at a shirtless Lautner and his popular six-pack. Nathan (Lautner) is enjoying himself at a party, and when he trudges home the next morning, his father (Jason Isaacs) still makes him spar with him, to an oddly violent degree. But by dinner time, it's clear this is just tough love — and foreshadowing for the challenge that will come.
Nathan's mother (Maria Bello) grounds him for staying out too late the evening before, telling Nathan: "Trust needs to be earned" — a line that Nathan will later parrot, with all the timing of a young Schwarzenegger.
He's also seeing a psychologist, Dr. Weaver (Sigourney Weaver), for "impulsivity and rage issues." He tells her he feels like "a stranger in my own life."
Nathan has long been in love with his across-the-street neighbor, Karen (Lily Collins), and a school project fortunately brings them together. While researching, they stumble across a photo of what looks to be of Nathan as a toddler on a missing children website.
When Nathan contacts the site, he sets off a chain reaction. Immediately, mean-looking men are marshaled from all corners of the globe, dispatched from a computer hacking bunker.
Throughout the film, incredulous digital things like this happen. "Abduction," directed by John Singleton, tries to portray a world of blanket surveillance, without any real depiction of it. Nathan later calls 911 from a pay phone and the CIA answers. If he were to make toast, you'd swear an agent would pop up instead of bread.
Nathan discovers that his parents aren't really his parents, just as the bad guys are descending on the house. They're killed and the house explodes, thereby committing a movie sin: You don't kill off Maria Bello in the first reel.
Nathan and Karen set out on the road, fleeing their pursuers in close scrapes, staying distrustful of the also-chasing CIA and trying to figure out whom to trust. The supporting cast is largely solid, with Alfred Molina as a CIA supervisor and Denzel Whitaker as Nathan's friend Gilly.
There's no way to judge "Abduction" other than as the first "Taylor Lautner project." That was how it was conceived and that's how it feels, in every frame. It's a cynical movie, with little in mind other than a showcase for a very popular, young actor.
As an action star, Lautner handles himself reasonably well. He has a bit too much of a boy-band singer look to him, but he's likeable and the major deficiency of "Abduction" isn't his. It's the script.
Screenplay writer Shawn Christensen tries to fashion a "Bourne Identity"-like thriller (there are some parallels, too, to the recent and significantly better "Hanna"), but the plot is increasingly absurd and the dialogue often comically poor.
In one scene, the principle villain (Michael Nyqvist) threatens to kill all of Nathan's Facebook friends. (Are his Twitter followers going to be OK?) In another, Sigourney Weaver is forced to actually say "okey dokey" and promptly exit the movie.
The highlight of "Abduction" is the thoroughly unlikely setting of its finale: a Pittsburgh Pirates game. The film culminates in a sea of black and yellow at the ballpark, where it was actually shot during a game.
It works fine, but shortly beforehand, Karen, looking worriedly at the tickets, wishes there was another way. Probably a Dodgers fan.
"Abduction," a Lionsgate release, is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense violence and action, brief language, some sexual content and teen partying. Running time: 106 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G — General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG — Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 — Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R — Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 — No one under 17 admitted.