I would like to take credit for calling Abduction, the first feature headlined by soul-crushingly generic teenage hunk Taylor Lautner, by the alternate title Abs-duction. Sadly, I cannot, for it isn't mine, but was given me by a friend who is welcome to claim it in comments. I have shared it with you not because it is especially cunning or original - on the contrary, it's the kind of joke that feels like it was just lying around for whoever wanted to grab it - but because it sums up in one snitty pun the sole reason that the film exists or that anybody would joyfully go to see it, which is that Lautner has muscles so tight and well-formed that you could use his stomach to grate cheese, and it is apparently in his contracts that he cannot spend more than 67% of any film wearing a shirt.

And to the significant plurality of my readership made up of 14-year-old girls, that is surely reason enough, and please don't let me dissuade you. For the rest of us, a nice tight action/thriller plot might have helped, and the truly galling thing about Abduction is that it appears, for a good while, to give us just that: a perfectly fine, superficially enjoyable genre picture. That's before everything goes to hell, as of course it was going to do: probably because the light reflecting off Lautner's abs got in the line producer's eyes.

Lautner plays Nathan Harper, a tough kid from the affluent upper-middle class side of the tracks in Pittsburgh, where he gets roaring drunk and is in all ways surly and louche, because film executives have figured out that nice teenage girls with disposable incomes enjoy bad boys & anyway well-behaved young men don't take off their shirts so very often. And yet Nathan also expresses a certain kind of begrudging adolescent fondness towards his parents (Maria Bello and Jason Isaacs), because actual rebellion isn't the in thing right now, and we want to be assured that the bad boy with the ripped abs is also an unthreatening sweetheart that we can take home to Mother.

For what I am certain is not the half-hour that it feels like, we get to follow Nathan as he enjoys his comfy, happy life, with his good friends and the supercute girl across the street, Karen (Lily Collins) who is dating the school douchebag and totally wants to hook up with Taylor Nathan, squee! And then, after being assigned to work together on a damnably vague school assignment (it appears to be something along the lines of "ten pages on an aspect of society"), they accidentally stumble across what looks for all the world like Nathan's baby picture on a website for lost children. Rather than trusting his parents - or are they? - Nathan contacts the website to see what the hell, and this kicks off a terrible shitstorm that results in his not-biologically-parents-but-we-love-you ending up dead in a particularly cold, efficient assassination, with Nathan and Karen running this way and that along the eastern seaboard with nothing but a few cryptic clues from his psychiatrist, Dr. Bennett (Sigourney Weaver, who, bless her heart, gives an actual performance), a secret CIA plant, much as his fake parents were, and also much as his actual parents were, and it's because of his heritage that Nathan is now being chased by the transparently dirty CIA operative Burton (Alfred Molina, who, bless his heart, isn't trying in the slightest to give a performance) and notorious Russian bad guy Viktor Kozlow (Michael Nyqvist who, bless his heart, is Swedish and sounds it).

There's a brief window in between the Harpers' deaths - the best part of the film, particularly the shockingly casual way Bello's character is gunned down - and the inevitable exposition dump around the film's halfway or two-thirds point during which Abduction is good enough, which is obviously not the same as "good", but any port in a storm, and if "Taylor Lautner's first leading role" isn't enough of a storm for you, than blimey but you must have a cast-iron resistance to bad movies. The action jumps along, and Edward Shearmur's unattractively anonymous action movie score gets the blood to pumping, and John Singleton's direction is sufficiently kinetic, though he relies throughout the film on zooms like it has never stopped being 1973, and by the way, when do we stop feeling sorry that this is the same man who made Boyz n the Hood and just start loathing him for how thoroughly he sold out? Because I think I'm ready to make that jump.

Outside of that window, the film is a fucking wreck. The opening sequence is little but shrill lifestyle porn, watching as Nathan raises hell and shows off his chest, and everything once the movie starts to earnestly answer the questions of what is going on is just stupid, intensely and grindingly stupid. We learn that Nathan is, in fact, going to be used as a bargaining chip - his dad has some awesome piece of intelligence that both Burton and Kozlow want, and they figure that if they threaten Nathan's life, they can get it; and that is, as such things go, a perfectly reasonable plot, except it's also awfully anti-climactic. I had a sneaking suspicion going into the film, and even for the first third or so, that he was a Hanna-style human experiment, but no. He's just important because his dad is a good spy, and the film doesn't really make any effort to explain why, exactly, he had to learn this fact from a shady missing children website.

Really, the problem is that it robs Nathan of agency: he doesn't drive anything, and the stakes are only incidentally his life and safety. He's not even the one who matters; he's just a prop in his dad's glamorous spy life. It's not "wrong" or "bad" writing, but it's awfully pedestrian. Worse still, it's sloppy - a whole entire character is mentioned and turns into a significant clue and then with absolutely no fanfare the film just forgets he existed; the backstory involving the fake CIA agent parents fails to make sense on multiple levels and only manages to be hand-waved away because the people involved are dead by that point, for some reason it ends at Pirates home game. What isn't sloppy is stilted: thankfully I have forgotten the dialogue by now, except that it was the kind of "let me describe a situation we both understand in clear, simple, exposition so that if some objective third party were watching us, they would learn about our personalities and backstories" nonsense that would get you laughed out of an introductory writing class in college (the screenwriter, Shawn Christensen, is the frontman for an indie rock group, just so we all know).

Of course, the whole thing really dies because Abs McGee can't act worth a damn, but why belabor that? Criticising Taylor Lautner for being a shitty actor is the refuge of the unimaginative. It is, perhaps, worth suggesting that of the three Twilight leads, he has the most contemptible solo career (this and Valentine's Day): whereas Kristen Stewart at least tries to play bendy characters in interesting projects, and Robert Pattinson has a certain affinity for theoretically serious dramas, Lautner's work is transparently trying to cash in on teenyboppers, before they and he are too old. But a bad actor? Yes, and the ocean is wet. Of course he leaves a hole in the center of the movie where the drama is meant to be, one that is not filled at all by the proper actors who all look marginally embarrassed, or by Lily Collins's glassy stares of indeterminate agitation. Though, to be fair, she's probably just wondering why her male co-lead has bigger tits than she does.