Enduring the sight of countless men falling prey to Katie Holmes' J. Crew-clad Ivy League siren is only the first affront Abandon, Stephen Gaghan's scattered psychological thriller, commits. As the inexplicably eerie undergrad library-worker puts it, "Guys are drawn to her like bugs around a bug lamp." That banal statement just about sums up the witty, frightening insights Gaghan's misguided character study/ghost story has on both its Dawson's Creek heartthrob heroine and its own meandering purpose.
After watching the first third of the film, it seems that Gaghan (who won an Oscar for penning the script to Traffic), is attempting to fashion a less intelligent version of the highly underrated and under-seen Waking the Dead. In Keith Gordon's 2000 film, a promising young politician (Billy Crudup) begins to unravel when he starts seeing his activist, and supposedly deceased, ex-girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly). Here, Holmes plays an ambitious undergrad (also named Katie) whose well-planned life takes an unexpected turn off-course when her former flame, who went missing two years earlier, starts stalking her on campus. But unlike Waking the Dead, Abandon avoids the more interesting aspects of its story, namely the nature of grief, sanity, and the fragile line that defines our reality. Instead, the fascination remains on Holmes and her persona as a vision of unbridled WASP perfection; Gaghan is, in the end, much less fascinated with Katie's mental state and much more interested in getting into her pants.
From her dorky best friend, the detective on the case (Benjamin Bratt), her school shrink (Tony Goldwyn), to the guy who interviews her for a post-graduation finance job, literally all the men in the film want Katie. In a bizarre thread, her powerful appeal is explained by her need for protection: because her father wasn't home when she was young she has abandonment issues and therefore men can't resist her.
Amid the Holmes-worship, Gaghan tries unsuccessfully to work in a thread about drugs and our over-medicated existences. As we watch Holmes and her pals let loose with some innocent vodka shots, bong hits, and Ecstasy, the talk quickly turns to the mood controllers Katie's missing ex used. And, when she tells her shrink she's anxious all the time, he quickly writes her a prescription for something to "help her sleep." Throw in Bratt's recovering alcoholic detective, and everyone in Abandon is struggling with their artificial highs and lows.
In some ways, it seems that Gaghan wanted to write and direct a version of The Rules of Attraction or Prozac Nation, a dark, nihilistic tale about drug-addled kids awash in a wasteland of clichéd, pre-packaged, pop-culture dreams of career and domestic bliss, but got sidetracked with the need to produce something more akin to The Sixth Sense. The multitude of better intentions doesn't go unnoticed either, since what the talented scribe ends up with is something more akin to the B-grade femme fatale flop The Temp.
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