[Screen It]


(2002) (Katie Holmes, Benjamin Bratt) (PG-13)

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Suspense/Thriller: An overworked college senior begins to fall for the detective who's investigating the two-year-old disappearance of her former boyfriend.
Katie Burke (KATIE HOLMES) is a college senior who's under a great deal of stress. Not only must she complete her thesis and take her exams, but she also has to attend interviews to get a post-graduation job. Then there's that troublesome bit concerning a missing person.

It seems that her rich, orphaned boyfriend, Embry (CHARLIE HUNNAM), disappeared two years ago and hasn't been heard from since. Lack of any financial activity on his part had led most people to think he's dead, but Lt. Bill Stayton (FRED WARD) has just assigned Det. Wade Handler (BENJAMIN BRATT) to look into the case once again.

A recovering alcoholic, Wade has his own problems, but starts his investigation that obviously leads directly to Katie. She doesn't have time to deal with an issue that she believes to be closed, but his perseverance and her sudden sightings of someone who looks a great deal like Embry eventually change her mind.

Katie's friends Sam (ZOOEY DESCHANEL) and Amanda (GABRIELLE UNION) realize that Katie is seemingly starting to fall for Handler. Although she starts to agree with them, she must deal with the investigation, a friend, Harrison (GABRIEL MANN), who's fallen for her, an odd girl in the library, Mousy Julie (MELANIE LYNSKEY) who seems to have a secret, and thoughts that she might be overstressed or possibly losing her mind as her sightings of and eventual encounters with Embry increase.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Although they'll later learn that they were wrong, most college students feel that their lives then are the busiest they'll ever be. After all, there are all of those exams to take, papers and projects to complete and parties and other social events to attend. Throw in a missing boyfriend, a nosey detective investigating that and the thought that you might be going crazy, and things will most certainly seem overwhelming.

At least that's the thought behind "Abandon." A would-be thriller from writer/director Stephen Gaghan (making his directorial debut after winning an Oscar for writing "Traffic" and writing "Rules of Engagement"), the film proves two things.

One is that just because a person can write an Oscar winning screenplay, that doesn't necessarily mean they can direct an equivalent film. The other is that no matter how "shocking" of a twist-filled ending that one can concoct, it means nothing if the rest of the material preceding it as slow as molasses, less than engaging and hard to accept as it is here.

To be fair, Gaghan reportedly had to step in when another director suddenly dropped out, and the threatened but never realized talent strikes from last year caused the film to hurry into production before the script was completed, let alone polished and positively ready to go.

Unfortunately, it definitely shows. Even for a generic, run of the mill thriller, this one is about as flat and unhurried a suspense film that you'll ever encounter. Granted, not all such films need to zip along at a brisk pace simply because some can successfully build suspense as they unfold at whatever speed deemed necessary.

This one attempts to do just that and once everything's done, one can see the filmmaker's intention, understand why things occurred or characters behaved the way they did, and realize how everything fits together.

If only we cared about the story, its characters or the mystery that's supposed to intrigue us. While clearly not novel, a story about a missing boyfriend as mixed with a subplot about the "surviving" girlfriend suddenly starting to see him and worrying about possibly going crazy does have some potential (particularly if done in a creepy fashion, rather than as straight drama).

Alas, that's not the case. Although it clocks in at around 100 minutes, the film feels like an eternity as well as if it's stretching to fill that time. It certainly comes off as if Gaghan is in no hurry to tell the tale. The fact that various scenes don't do much for the story in terms of context or moving it forward when they occur clearly doesn't help matters.

Nor do the various flashbacks that are inserted into various parts of the story. While they're obviously present to introduce the missing character - decently played by relative feature film newcomer Charlie Hunnam (TV's "Queer as Folk" and "Undeclared") in full Val Kilmer imitation mode - they mostly serve just to wipe out what little momentum the film was trying to build and maintain.

That laborious pace contrasts too much with the supposed frenzied life of the protagonist - earnestly played by Katie Holmes ("The Gift," "Wonder Boys") - as she nears graduation. Actually, there isn't enough freneticism to portray her mindset accurately and such a frantic aura would have greatly benefited the film. It wants to be a slow-boil suspense thriller with a dynamite ending, but that approach just doesn't work.

Twenty-twenty hindsight explains the reasons Holmes' character behaves the way she does - just like Hunnam's character - but that doesn't help as the story unfolds. The result is that neither she nor the mystery is likely to engage the viewer as much as both should.

That pretty much leaves Benjamin Bratt ("Traffic," "Miss Congeniality") - who plays the detective with the requisite hang-up (in this case, alcoholism) - in the lurch. His character and resultant performance are as lethargic as the rest of the film and we thus don't care about him either. Performances from the likes of Zooey Deschanel ("The New Guy," "Almost Famous"), Gabrielle Union ("Welcome to Collinwood," "Bring It On") and Gabriel Mann ("The Bourne Identity," "Summer Catch") are okay, but their characters are sketchily drawn at best.

In the end, the film's conclusion may explain everything that transpired before it, but the trip to get there is so slow and uneventful that you probably won't care. Otherwise competently told, "Abandon" rates as just a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed October 14, 2002 / Posted October 18, 2002

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