Movie Mom

Given the talent involved, it really is almost impressive how bad “Abandon” is.

The movie is written by Stephen Gaghan, who last won an Oscar for “Traffic” and here makes his directing debut. The direction is poor, and the screenplay is awful. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique, whose work in “Requiem for a Dream” was brilliantly innovative, manages to make Katie Holmes and Benjamin Bratt look so unattractive they should consider a defamation lawsuit.

Holmes plays a brilliant and beautiful college senior who seems to have everything. She aces an interview with McKinsey, the brass ring of employers. But she is having problems completing her thesis and she has trouble sleeping. And when a detective shows up asking questions about her boyfriend, who disappeared two years earlier, it brings back painful memories and deepens her sense of loss. The detective (Benjamin Bratt) is facing his own challenges, taking on his first case after returning from alcohol rehab.

This is one of those movies that depends heavily on bonehead plot twists in which people behave inconsistently and idiotically, including that oldest of movie plots — characters showing up alone in eerie and isolated locations for assignations with potential murderers. There are many shadowy hallways, crumbling walls, and dripping pipes. There are gratuitous scenes of college kids at a debauched party (a throwback to Gaghan’s scene of teenagers taking drugs in “Traffic”) and of Holmes changing her clothes. The missing boyfriend is supposed to be talented, arrogant, and electrifyingly seductive, but the flashback scenes of their encounters are clumsily handled. The surprise ending is telegraphed halfway through the movie.

Parents should know that the movie shows a girl’s decision to lose her virginity and her unrealistic expectations about the relationship. There are overheard sounds of a couple having sex. Characters casually drink and use drugs. One intoxicated character is so happy that she says she wishes she could always feel so “connected.” Another character struggles with alcoholism.

Families who see this movie should talk about the jealousy some characters feel. What are “problem people?” Do they choose to be (or not be) “problem people?” What does the title refer to? What do you think about the job interview scene? If you were asked to solve a problem in an interview, how would you respond? What were the students’ concerns about “selling out?”

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy better performances by Holmes in “The Ice Storm” and “Wonder Boys” and a better college-based mystery, “DOA.”

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