There's a little more to "Abandon" than the stock woman-in-peril thriller it looks like. But since writer-director Stephen Gaghan stages the film like a stock woman-in-peril thriller, there's no way to know this until the last 10 minutes when the twists kick in.
The first 9/10ths of the picture consists largely of cutie coed Katie Holmes having her thesis-oriented last semester of college turned into a distractingly stressful ordeal by a cop (Benjamin Bratt) coming around to dredge up the two-year-old case of her missing boyfriend (Charlie Hunnam). Well, that and the fact that soon thereafter the boyfriend -- an arrogant, idle-rich kid with a silly shaggy hairdo and a penchant for brash theatrics -- reappears and begins stalking her from the shadows.
With only a few obscure, barely crumb-like hints that there might be something more going on than just unwelcome visits from a nefarious ex, the movie coasts along on perfunctory tension and Holmes' good looks for several reels while waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Gaghan (who wrote "Traffic" and makes his directorial debut here) follows our heroine on a coveted job interview with a big accounting firm and lends screen time to supporting characters who are often more engaging than the leads. Holmes and Bratt acquit themselves respectably enough in their central-casting roles, but Zooey Deschanel ("Almost Famous," "The Good Girl") and Melanie Lynskey ("Heavenly Creatures," "Sweet Home Alabama") are more memorable as Holmes' sardonic best friend and a shy geek librarian who wants to be.
Occasionally the director will fill in backstory (Holmes met her creepy suitor, a musical prodigy, when he was conducting her campus choir) or chase characters into dank, dark abandoned buildings in the middle of the night. But as often as not, "Abandon" is doing dull chores like following the cop to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
You'd think Gaghan would at least want to follow Bratt's attempts to track down the boyfriend, who is now scaring the bejesus out of Holmes on a daily basis. But that seems to be a low priority, or at least a lower priority than making the sweet young thing feel protected by bringing her back to his place, where knight-in-shining-armor syndrome kicks in and, well, you know.
When the movie does venture back toward the plot, it becomes dependant on actions that invite a lot of second-guessing, making the story feel sloppy and Holmes' character look foolish until a big reveal in the last reel exposes her apparent bad judgement as something altogether different.
But because her behavior is so quizzical, it's difficult to see this girl's story through to the end, especially since Gaghan drags the finale out with a time-shift gimmick that jumps forward into Holmes' future before resolving the plot in flashback.
Once all the pieces are in place, the director's choices make a certain kind of sense -- but not enough so to make the movie seem any better in retrospect.
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
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