Rated PG-13, 99 min. Directed by Stephen Gaghan. Starring Katie Holmes, Benjamin Bratt, Charlie Hunnam, Mark Feuerstein, Zooey Deschanel, Tony Goldwyn, Melanie Lynskey, Philip Bosco.
What hath The Sixth Sense wrought? These days, it seems as if every psychological thriller has a surprise finish. You get the idea that filmmakers plot these scripts backwards, beholden to the notion that the end justifies the means. Knowing that a twist ending lies ahead, you invariably find yourself trying to beat them to the punch, as if you were playing a game rather than watching a movie. The university-themed Abandon is no different. Although the film attempts to meld psychology and suspense in a manner to justify its gotcha ending (if you think carefully enough, the final revelation is easily evident), the incoherent path it takes to get you there appreciably diminishes the payoff. Fittingly enough, the focal point of this muddled mess is a muddled mess herself, a college senior (Holmes) slowly unraveling under the pressure of an unfinished thesis paper, the need to find a job, and the sudden appearance of an old boyfriend who's been missing for two years. You know that poor Katie is coming undone because she doesn't comb her hair. You wouldn't necessarily know it from Holmes' performance, which primarily consists of a series of vague and inexpressive close-ups that convey her beauty but not much more. The film's storyline is premised on the police investigation of the missing bad boy's disappearance, but its need to legitimize itself as something different from the run-of-the-mill psychological thriller makes for one confusing experience. On paper, Katie's visual memories and waking dreams undoubtedly played well, but their nonlinear intrusions into the film often have you scratching your head. No doubt, director/screenwriter Gaghan (who won an Oscar for his Traffic screenplay) wanted his directorial debut to stand apart from the pack, but his objective backfires. In trying to fashion something different in this worn-out genre, he forsakes the things that work, leaving Abandon left behind.
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