Movie Review: ABANDON (2002)


Abandon (2002) — **

There’s an overwhelming sense of irony in the title of Abandon. This Hollywood thriller employed an unusual marketing campaign (i.e. the trailer didn’t give away the ending) and had a unique premise that promised intense characters and genuine excitement. Plus, it was written and directed by Stephen Gaghan, the screenwriter of Traffic. With all this potential, Abandon should have been a hit. Unfortunately, every possible opportunity to take this film another level is deserted for a routine narrative, manufactured characters, and the standard predictably unpredictable ending.

After personal problems forced him off the job, Detective Wade Handler (Benjamin Bratt) returns from his short hiatus to a two-year old missing person case. The subject is Embry Langan (Charlie Hunnam), a celebrated musical theatre student from an Ivy League University in Connecticut. Handler’s investigation quickly leads to Embry’s girlfriend at the time of his disappearance, Katie Burke (Katie Holmes).

Katie is already under a ton of pressure with her thesis deadline arriving rapidly and exhaustive job interviews taking up every other moment. She barely even has time to enjoy her high-spirited friends. When Handler start digging into Katie’s past, Katie divulges much personal information including her paternal abandonment issues. The two even start to form a relationship based on mutual disclosure. That is until Katie begins to see Embry everywhere. Now, Handler must try to uncover the truth behind Embry’s seeming reappearance before it pushes Katie completely over the edge.

Abandon doesn’t start off as a routine film. In fact, the previously mentioned potential is evident in the initial plot development. The characters start off with solid foundations, enough to keep you interested in them. Katie Burke’s mental instability is established early with a fellow student smugly informing Katie of her completed thesis while Katie sits disillusioned at her lap top trying to drum out another sentence. Detective Handler’s unidentified problem is also intriguing. However, the moment Handler’s past indiscretions are exposed the film’s potential begins its rapid evaporation.

Handler is an alcoholic, which I’ve come to brand as the all-purpose character builder. It’s just enough of a dilemma to make a character seem less than one-dimensional, but so done to death it’s almost as expected as the gay best friend in a romantic comedy. Once in a while an actor can break the mold and make this hollow character work, but Benjamin Bratt can’t do it. Not that I would expect a TV cop turned movie cop to have the range to improve upon an essentially defective character, but Bratt doesn’t even let the charisma that makes him a star shine through.

Because Bratt’s character fails to be anything more than an alcoholic, it’s not necessary to connect with him. Unfortunately, Katie Holmes is constantly fighting against the dying plot to make her character work. Holmes almost wins, too.

Eerie relationship flashbacks combined with brutal encounters with Embry post-reappearance are emotionally exhaustive for both Holmes and the audience. Even as the rest of the film falls apart around her, Holmes is still able to draw a reaction. But even Holmes can’t stand up to the rape of her character by an unjustifiable twist ending. Her performance is wasted along with any remaining potential.

Abandon isn’t plagued by plot holes or bad dialogue. This film just never overcomes what it could have been. Each passing moment squanders a chance to redeem the film until finally the end credits roll and the only thing left is another mediocre thriller that should have given away its ending in the trailer. At least then I would have been able to detach Holmes’ character, knowing full well she would be cheated in the end.

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