BY RACHEL CARNACHAN
Abandon, the much-hyped directorial debut of Traffic screenwriter Stephen Gaghan, promises to be a twisty thriller, but instead disappoints as a flaccid and predictable detective story redeemed only by its liberal serving of eye candy (Katie Holmes for the boys; Benjamin Bratt and Charlie Hunnam for the gals) and its many unintentionally humorous episodes.
The film opens with Detective Wade Handler (Bratt) being assigned to reinvestigate the disappearance two years earlier of Embry Langan, the orphan-heir to a vast fortune and a troubled drama student-cum-opera composer at an unnamed elite northeastern university (Harvard in the original script). Embry has long been presumed dead, and Handler’s assignment is motivated by a request from the trustees of Embry’s estate for a formal declaration that he is deceased so that they can administer probate and send his files off to storage.
In his preliminary research for the case, Handler discovers that the gorgeous Katie Burke (Holmes) was Embry’s girlfriend at the time of his disappearance, and he conveniently decides that she will be the focus of his investigation.
Katie is now a senior at the college, and when Handler finds her she is rapidly crumbling under the multiple pressures of preparing for her final exams, trying to finish her thesis and participating in a competitive job interviewing process. The last thing she needs is some cop on her case, probing her about the disappearance of Embry — her first love — whose cruel ‘abandonment’ of her two years before has clearly scarred her.
Through a series of flashbacks, we are introduced to Embry (Hunnam) who Gaghan clearly intended to be a compelling and sexy artiste. Unfortunately, on-screen, Embry comes across as a self-obsessed, pretentious little creep, which makes the beautiful and talented Katie’s enduring fascination with him utterly unconvincing. It so happens that Embry disappeared the night his avant garde opera, ‘Trip Hop Inferno,” debuted to a sycophantic audience in the basement of the university’s old, gothic theatre (Gagham’s rather unimaginative answer to the standard haunted house).
With Detective Handler on the case, things begin to go further awry for Katie. One of her best male friends mysteriously disappears, and she begins to catch fleeting glimpses of what she thinks is Embry outside her classroom and behind the stacks in the library. Is she losing her marbles, or has Embry really returned to campus?
Against this background, Handler is charged with finding out whether Embry’s disappearance was a theatrical stunt staged by the attention-craving Embry for its shock value, or whether there is indeed a more sinister explanation, such as suicide or homicide. As Handler gets closer to understanding what happened to Embry, he also (surprise, surprise) gets closer to Katie.
The film is doomed from the start, due to a plot riddled with so many holes that it never gains the integrity of a serious thriller. It is also undermined by the gratuitous shots of Holmes in various states of undress, and the plain silly shots of Katie willingly disappearing into the now abandoned theatre by herself in the middle of the night to try and confront Embry, even though she is supposedly terrified of him.
Similarly, the character development is superficial and formulaic. Katie — a sweet little virginal ingénue in the flashbacks who is easily seduced by the forceful Embry — is now shown to be wounded and insecure as a result of his abandonment of her (which recalls her childhood abandonment by her father). Yet this insecurity is at odds with Katie’s depiction in other scenes as a confident and sassy young woman who is comfortable enough to cuss in a job interview with the venerated McKinsey & Company and to effortlessly seduce her boss.
My final gripe is that Gaghan lets numerous wallpaper episodes — students getting drunk at student parties, students tripping and smoking weed — stretch on for too long which further delays the progress towards the film’s predictable dénouement.
However, despite these many flaws, Abandon could still be a good pick for a first date movie. Depending on your preference, either Bratt or Holmes will surely stir your pulse, and there are enough faults to trawl through at a post-movie dinner if faced with an uncomfortable lull in the conversation.
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