As the Hitchcockian man-on-the-run thrillers of the 1950s ran headlong into the clammy Cold War paranoia of the 1960s, a new sub-genre emerged whose hero — Gene Hackman in The Conversation, Robert Redford in Three Days of the Condor, Warren Beatty in The Parallax View, and even the decades-later Will Smith in Enemy of the State — was constantly fleeing shadowy government conspiracies. These were often ordinary men who found themselves in extraordinary situations through no fault of theirs; they just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
The 1970s, when this sub-genre reached its apogee, was bursting with so much stellar filmmaking from the New Hollywood brats (The Conversation was made by one of these very brats, named Francis Ford Coppola) that these mainstream thrillers were seen as little more than sturdy pieces of journeyman filmmaking, which audiences flocked to simply because they were toplined by bona fide movie stars frequently dismissed as pretty boys.
Seen from today's vantage, though, these films may finally be ready for their close-up — and for this we have Taylor Lautner to thank. Lautner, I am told, is a huge movie star, and as someone who managed to duck during the pop-culture explosion that was the Twilight series, I am unable to fathom why. Of course, deserving has little to do with performers breaking through the glass ceiling that separates the box-office draws from those merely called upon to fill out the pedigreed supporting cast, but still you have to wonder what particular effulgence draws those droves of Lautner fans.
He is not conventionally handsome in the Redford-Beatty mode — he has a thickset neck, a smile that spills over with terrifyingly white teeth, and eyes so tightly drawn that they seem incapable of transmitting discernable human emotion. It must be the abs, then, which the young star puts on display within the first few minutes. There was a time actors used to emerge from the workshops of Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler. Today, they're graduates of Gold's Gym.
In Abduction, directed by John Singleton — yes, that John Singleton, who at 24 became the youngest person nominated for a Best Director Oscar, for his bone-chilling Boyz in the Hood – Lautner inhabits the Redford role in Condor. He is minding his own business, essentially flashing that smile at weak-kneed fans on the other side of the screen, when assassins pump bullets into the people closest to him. Who are they? Why have they disrupted his unremarkable suburban life? Is anybody who they appear to be, and can anyone be trusted?
The answers are arrived at with the polished proficiency of a made-for-TV thriller, which begets the question why we should fork out good money for the big-screen experience when older, better versions of this story are ripe for rediscovery.
And as with most Hollywood films in this digital age, it's so that fine actors such as Sigourney Weaver, Alfred Molina, Jason Isaacs and Maria Bello can stoke their home fires while they seek projects elsewhere that make them happy, if not their accountants. It's disturbing, though, how older movies keep getting remade with increasingly younger stars worshipped by increasingly younger audiences. We can only hope that a canny executive isn't putting together a pitch for a Sophie's Choice makeover with Dakota Fanning.
Director: John Singleton
Cast: Taylor Lautner, Lily Collins, Alfred Molina
Storyline: A young man is on the run from people who may want him dead
Bottomline: A made-for-TV movie