Actors can't save `Abandon'

Movie Reviews

October 18, 2002|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

SUN SCORE

**1/2

Abandon tags Katie Holmes as a talented actor with surprising range and vast, untapped potential - so much, in fact, that watching her, one can almost overlook the film's many flaws.

Almost.

For as good as Holmes is, and as comfortably as co-star Benjamin Bratt wears the role of troubled police detective (harking back to his Law & Order days), their performances are still in service to a thriller with an ending that becomes clear within the first 20 minutes, all played out on what must be America's most depressingly un-photogenic college campuses.

Holmes, plumbing depths rarely hinted at in her starring role on TV's Dawson's Creek, is Catherine, a stellar student at an unnamed (but doubtless prestigious) university about to graduate into a world fraught with pressures she's only beginning to understand. She's having trouble completing her senior thesis, contending with a male friend who has feelings she can't reciprocate and fending off the amorous advances of job recruiters who take one look and declare the search over.

Into this already volatile mix is thrown Detective Wade Handler (Bratt), a tormented cop (in the movies, is there any other kind?) recently put back on the force. His first assignment is to close the 2-year-old missing persons case of some spoiled rich kid who vanished after flipping off the audience at one of his avant-garde theatricals.

Turns out his girlfriend was Catherine, so that's where Handler starts his investigation. And like every other male in the lower 48, he sees Catherine and wants to protect her and have her.

Fact is, Catherine's fresh-faced, ingenue beauty has never done her any favors. Men are either lusting for her or desperate to protect her from the big bad world out there, and the difference between the two motivations is becoming less and less.

At first, Catherine's resistant to both Handler's questions and his awkward advances, but gradually she lets him in. Which just might turn out to be a big mistake for all concerned.

Writer-director Stephen Gaghan (who won an Oscar for his Traffic screenplay) tries to keep the film's atmosphere and his characters' motivations murky, but really all he does is keep the film underlit and his actors appearing clueless. And he substitutes inaction for suspense; Abandon stubbornly refuses to ever catch fire.

But Holmes, whose undeniable beauty could doom her to a career where her talents are never fully appreciated (think Michelle Pfeiffer), makes Catherine an intriguing blend of smarts and sass, a woman who suspects the world is hers for the asking but has too much self-respect (or too little self-esteem) to accept the gift. Her performance is all about body language; she may look like the kind of person who can write her own ticket, and her friends may all regard her as such, but her movements suggest an uncertainty that's as beguiling as it is puzzling.

And her portrayal of a student sinking under the pressures inherent in the move from academe to reality should ring true with anyone who's ever faced the uncertainty of graduation.

Abandon

Starring Katie Holmes, Benjamin Bratt

Written, directed by Stephen Gaghan

Released by Paramount Pictures

Rated PG-13 (sexuality, violence, language)

Time 99 minutes

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