The question driving Abandon is who abandoned who? Did charismatic but manipulative Embry (Charlie Hunnam) leave his clingy college sweetheart, Katie (Katie Holmes, who probably would get confused if she and her character didn't share a first name), or is it the other way around? And is Embry alive and kicking on a European jaunt, or dead, as a sleazy, washed-up detective (Benjamin Bratt) believes but can't prove?
Anyone who's taken a few Psych 101 classes will have this puzzle solved before too long. The rest of you will have to suffer through nearly two hours of muddled melodrama and shallow psychological mindplay before writer/director Stephen Gaghan (Traffic) unleashes three different conclusions but struggles to make even one of them stick.
Katie's a headstrong, confident college senior who's two steps away from landing a lucrative post-graduate marketing job with a New York firm. Focused on a goal, Katie hesitates to assist Detective Wade Handler (Bratt) when the snooping gumshoe arrives on campus asking questions about Katie's old flame, Embry.
Two years prior, Embry disappeared, taking Katie's heart with him to points unknown. He had plane tickets for Europe, but never used them. She's not sure where he went, nor does she care anymore. With a bright future ahead of her, she can't let the past get in the way. But it's this type of character who always has a skeleton or two in the closet that they're running from. Is Katie's skeleton Embry, or is it the other way around?
Abandon takes its first of several bizarre turns when Katie begins to sees Embry around campus. Or at least she thinks she does, and Gaghan does a decent job of keeping the truth concealed. Katie sees her ex in half-sleep states and intoxicated moments. Has he really come back from beyond to reconnect with her? Is this her subconscious desire playing mind games on her (and us)?
As Handler's investigation deepens, suspects in Embry's disappearance begin to arise. There's Harrison (Gabriel Mann), the jealous suitor who admires Katie from afar. There's a flirtatious campus shrink (Tony Goldwyn) who thinks he's saving his troubled patient. Handler has his work cut out for him, but he's too busy trying to bed Katie himself.
Whether Gaghan is striving for abusive psychological test of torture or plodding teen drama, he ends up with both. Heavy-handed melodramatic subplots drag behind this mystery like an anchor in the sand. Katie's dad left her at an early age, establishing her abandonment issues. And Handler's battle with booze is such a lame tool for dramatic effect, we're never convinced of his struggle to stay sober.
First-time director Gaghan simply delivers a pedestrian product. The trickiest maneuvers he attempts with his lens are extended tracking shots that slowly zoom through crowded scenes, only to land squarely on his teen star's ass. The cinematography is bland and largely blue, the editing unimaginative in its approach to flashbacks. Bratt does very little with his disheveled detective and Holmes - while alternately steely, cute, cold and intelligent - can't play sexy so much as she can play frustrated and upset. Zooey Deschanel and Gabrielle Union steal a few scenes as Katie's acerbic best friends, but the supporting players are largely wasted.
Slow to get motivated and left with nowhere to go, Abandon tries on a number of hats - stalker boyfriend thriller, black-widow erotica, public service announcement against date rape - before dovetailing into a sappy Hallmark TV movie that could be titled Daddy, Don't Leave Me, or something equally generic. Gaghan think he's safe as long as he keeps us guessing whether Embry really has returned or not. He just never bothers to explain why we'd care.
Deleted/extended scenes and a director's commentary (oooooh!) grace the Abandon DVD release. Ironically, Gaghan describes a couple of aspects of his screenplay as "stupid," yet exclaims he is "pissed" that people didn't the movie when he gets to the end of his narrative. Sorry Steve-o, try putting the pieces together next time...
Spot the two-dimensional character.
Run time: 99 mins
In Theaters: Friday 18th October 2002
Box Office USA: $10.7M
Box Office Worldwide: $10.7M
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Production compaines: Paramount Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 17%
Fresh: 18 Rotten: 91
IMDB: 4.8 / 10
Director: Stephen Gaghan
Screenwriter: Stephen Gaghan
Starring: Katie Holmes as Katie Burke, Benjamin Bratt as Wade Handler, Charlie Hunnam as Embry Larkin, Zooey Deschanel as Samantha Harper, Fred Ward as Lieutenant Bill Strayton, Mark Feuerstein as Robert Hanson, Melanie Lynskey as Mousy Julie, Philip Bosco as Professor Jergensen, Gabriel Mann as Harrison Hobart, Will McCormack as August, Tony Goldwyn as Dr. David Schaffer, Gabrielle Union as Amanda Luttrell, Rachelle Lefevre as Eager Beaver