1 item from 2002
18 October 2002 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »
"Abandon" is a highly schizophrenic movie that clearly wants to explore the lives of university students under stress their senior year but is forced to do so within a thriller format that requires spooky moments and malevolent ghosts.
Stephen Gaghan, the Oscar-winning writer of "Traffic", makes his directing debut here from his own script, "suggested" by Sean Desmond's horror novel "Adam's Fall". There are certainly enough Big Issues floating around: The movie's characters encounter academic pressures, substance abuse, fears of abandonment, romantic misfires and various other psychological challenges that lend themselves to an intense, compelling drama. But instead of a lively examination of human relationships and university life, we get cops, missing persons, dark tunnels and a twist ending.
With "Dawson's Creek"'s Katie Holmes and "Law & Order's" Benjamin Bratt top-billed and Halloween trappings of mystery and shock enveloping its fictional campus, "Abandon" should draw the younger crowd. Older audiences intrigued by the first film from the writer of "Traffic" may be disappointed, though, at how easily he abandons the dramatic merits of that film for thriller gimmickry.
We catch Holmes' Katie Burke in full stride her senior year. As graduation looms, she faces job interviews, final exams, a difficult thesis and, most troubling of all, continuing questions about a mercurial boyfriend, Embry (Charlie Hunnam), who vanished two years earlier. What provokes the latter is probing by detective Wade Handler (Bratt), a member of what must be the slowest acting police force in existence as it is only now looking into the 2-year-old disappearance.
Katie has two major problems. Her father's abandonment of her as a small child still clouds her relationships with men. What's more, she draws men to her like bees to nectar. Along with the missing boyfriend, fellow student Harrison (Gabriel Mann) can't take his eyes off her and the cop is soon mooning over her seemingly fragile beauty. When she toddles off to a shrink (Tony Goldwyn) to sort out her emotional life, even he can't help making suggestive remarks. What's a girl to do?
Gaghan's script is surprisingly wobbly at times. He handles exposition clumsily, with scenes so focused on backstory they impede the story's forward momentum. In one puzzling encounter, Wade waylays a student and friend of Katie's (Gabrielle Union) to ask her about Embry's drug bust more than two years ago. Why not consult Embry's rap sheet back at the station?
Gaghan's characters come loaded down with all sorts of personal travails that never pay off in terms of story or character development. Wade, for instance, is a recovering substance abuser in Alcoholics Anonymous, but nothing about this plays a significant role in the action.
About midway through, the tension between Gaghan's dramatic instincts and his need to fulfill genre requirements creates a kind of stagnation in the story. Relationships, especially the unlikely one between the coed and the detective, look promising. Yet Clint Mansell's score, with its eerie, tinkling sounds, and designer Gideon Ponte's claustrophobic sets, ranging from late-night library stacks to dark passageways and a dilapidated old house, continue to insist that genre elements will prevail.
Then the disappearance of a second character, triggering anxiety and suspicion among Katie's friends, tips the balance in favor of the horror/thriller. From that point on, Gaghan is forced to abandon the more interesting elements of "Abandon" to shepherd the thriller to a somewhat obvious conclusion.
Paramount and Spyglass Entertainment present a Lynda Obst production
Screenwriter-director: Stephen Gaghan
Executive producer: Richard Vane
Director of photography: Matthew Libatique
Production designer: Gideon Ponte
Music: Clint Mansell
Co-producers: Elizabeth Joan Hooper, Shannon Burke
Costume designer: Louise Frogley
Editor: Mark Warner
Katie Burke: Katie Holmes
Wade Handler: Benjamin Bratt
Embry Larkin: Charlie Hunnam
Samantha: Zooey Deschanel
Robert: Mark Feuerstein
Lt. Stayton: Fred Ward
Mousy Julie: Melanie Jayne Lynskey
Prof. Jergensen: Philip Bosco
Harrison: Gabriel Mann
Running time -- 98 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
1 item from 2002
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