ABDUCTION Review: Scott Adkins Plays Against Type To Interesting Effect

The modern action cinema great goes up against vast cosmic evil in this shaky, enjoyable science fiction actioner.

A QUICK NOTE: Abduction’s blu-ray contains both a director’s and a producer’s cut of the film. This review is based off of the director’s cut.

Andrew Quinn (Scott Adkins) pulls himself out of a park fountain. He’s sopping wet, thoroughly addled. His memory is scrambled, a shuffle of people and places that cannot and will not identify themselves beyond his missing daughter Lucy. An endless, rotting labyrinth. Cloaked figures who can bend reality to their will. People who cannot die unless an eerie little robotic spider is pulled out of their neck. When Quinn finally pulls himself together enough to read a nearby plaque, he gets a nasty shock. Three days ago, he was in England and the year was 1985. Now he is in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and the year is 2018. Andrew’s investigation into who kidnapped his daughter and just what the hell is going on leads him to allies; Connor (Andy On, Blackhat), an assassin whose wife was abducted by the same forces  and psychiatrist Dr. Anna Pham (Truong Ngoc Anh). Together they search for the truth behind Andrew’s garbled memories and their superhuman foes. It’s a journey that will take them to the edge of reality.

So goes Abduction, directed by Ernie Barbarash (Assassination Games) and written by Mike MacLean (Operation Rogue), which has been available for digital rental for a few weeks now and hits disc today. It’s the weakest of the three films Scott Adkins has starred in this year so far (the other two being Jesse V. Johnson’s damn good Triple Threat and full-on fantastic Avengement) but it works more often than it does not. And the ways in which it works are fascinating, particularly its lead character’s deviations from Adkins’ star persona and its eerie atmosphere.

Adkins’ Andrew is a brave, capable and driven action hero – a sweet-hearted dad trying to save his kid. That in and of itself is a departure from Adkins’ usual range as a leading man. In his recent collaborations with Johnson, starting with 2017’s Savage Dog, he has played roles whose moral alignment has ranged from likable-but-still-morally-compromised (The Debt Collector) to all-caps-and-sneering-EVIL (Triple Threat) and a number of places in-between. As Casey, the title character of Isaac Florentine’s two Ninja movies, Adkins started out as a straight forward good dude but descended deep into vengeance and brutality in the second film, Shadow of a Tear. And while the story of his most famous character, Undisputed’s Yuri “The Most Complete Fighter in the World” Boyka is one of redemption and transformation, Boyka remains quite thoroughly hard-edged.

Of all the Adkins protagonists I have seen, the closest to Andrew is Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning’s John – who believed he was a sweet-hearted family man before he embarked on that brilliant nightmare of a movie’s Lynchian revenge odyssey. Andrew’s unambiguous goodness is unusual for an Adkins protagonist in and of itself, but what really sets him apart is how consistently vulnerable he is. After an opening action sequence that leads to Andrew’s crawling out of the fountain thoroughly garbled, Adkins spends an extended period of time playing more helpless and disoriented than I have ever seen him. Andrew’s body and mind need to remember how to work on Earth after who knows how long elsewhere, and that remembering does not come easily. Adkins hunches and staggers, bundling himself in a colorful bomber jacket he swiped from a laundry line and profusely apologized to a kid for stealing. He struggles to put words together, and the ones he does manage come with a severe stammer. When he gets into a fight with two local cops, he is swiftly tased and arrested.

Even after Andrew recovers, the traumas he has experienced continue to have lingering physical and mental effects. Barring the opening sequence and one specific late-film fight, every one of Adkins’ action scenes in Abduction is defensive. His opponents have exactly one weak spot. If he can exploit it, he can win. Otherwise, he’s just trying to survive. What Andrew’s foes may lack in skill they make up for in sheer implacability, and his victories over them are as much a matter of good luck as they are martial ability. I’ve never seen Adkins fight quite like this before. His skill, speed and power are all still present, but they simply do not mean all that much. It’s really interesting to take in, both on its own and in the context of Adkins’ larger body of work. Behind the camera, Barbarash and DP Phil Parmet shoot the fights cleanly, and reinforce them with Abduction’s greatest strength as a film – its persistently strange and unsettling mood.

Abduction is wobbliest during its most ordinary scenes – its exposition is blunt, and its character work is overly familiar. Combined with the frequent use of establishing shot montages as scene transitions, these big blocks of explanation leave Abduction with a bad case of narrative herk-jerkery. It starts and stops and starts and stops, especially before Andrew, Connor and Dr. Pham meet up. When Barbarash and company bring on the aliens and the deep weirdness that comes with them, Abduction plays much better. Its special effects are blatant, but they’re deployed carefully. Blunt does not necessarily mean ineffective after all. When one of the sinister cloaked men teleports an artifact crucial to his plans, he does it so nonchalantly that he could just as easily be putting a plate on a shelf. When the heroes manage to kill two of the borderline indestructible human drones the cloaked men use as muscle, their bodies crumble into dust like Thanos snapped them away, fragile where seconds before they had been unbreakable. When the cloaked men reveal their true form, the sheer wrongness of it turns the limits of Abduction’s CGI into assets – the cloaked men are creepy and inhuman already, and their true self pushes them to the edge of being a full-blown cosmic horror. Combined with Barbarash and Parmet’s framing of familiar low-budget action sets as eerily empty rather than just wide-open spaces, old-fashioned trick photography, solid make-up and a few well-done practical effects, Abduction’s computer effects help create a consistently uneasy, even disturbing mood.

Between that spookiness – which feels a lot like the creepier parts of Russell T. Davies-era Doctor Who with way more martial arts, the solid fight choreography and Adkins’ intriguing venture outside his usual range, Abduction has a fair bit of good counterbalancing its over-familiar character beats and overstuffed, unnecessary explanations. It is a worthy rental, particularly for Adkins fans.

This movie was reviewed on a blu-ray provided by SHOUT! Factory.