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[whitespace] Katie Bar the Door

Katie Holmes goes to college in 'Abandon'

By Richard von Busack

Like a student flaunting a Penguin paperback at his table at Starbucks, the would-be thriller Abandon shows off its superior intellect in the first few minutes with a bad pun about the deconstructionist Derrida and the name of Zoroaster dropped with a thunk. The film sports a certain peekaboo, tiptoe attitude toward left-wing politics, resolved comfortingly in favor of the Only System There Is. One line, or as much as I could catch of it, runs, "You're against globalization? You might as well be against oxygen or against the sun coming up!"

Was this set in Berkeley, as some dialogue suggests, before budgetary concerns chucked the production into Canada? Yes, this is another "blue-light special" in which the gloomy but inexpensive northern light of Quebec is photographed through blue lenses. (The director, Stephen Gaghan, makes his debut after a career as a screenwriter; he wrote the remake of Traffic, which similarly worked the filters; but there everything looked cold and clear instead of groggy.)

On the one hand, Abandon is a story of a working-class girl with liberal-arts longings walling herself alive as an economics major. Catherine, called Katie (Katie Holmes), is grinding away at a thesis on "Emerging Ancillary Matrixes in the Global Wireless Market." But she's being stalked by the boyfriend who broke her heart: a rich and arrogant music student played by the Hobbitish Charlie Hunnam of Queer as Folk.

Two years ago, Charlie disappeared. Now he's back, and a none-too-competent cop with a drinking problem (Benjamin Bratt) is investigating. Naturally, he falls in love with the girl he's protecting.

Some effort has been extended to make the film like Laura--with a cast of decadent eccentrics and a maybe-dead, maybe-alive central figure. But the missing man isn't charismatic (sample madman pronouncement: "I am the infantile center of the goddamn universe!"), and Holmes can't carry the film alone up to a twist ending that presumes a terrific amount of police incompetence.

Again, as in The Gift, Holmes wants to ditch the girl-next-door image from Dawson's Creek for something scarier, but she seems problematic. To make Holmes really beautiful, you have to catch her from the right angles, and she isn't strong enough to fill in the blanks in this dubious-as-hell story with her own personality. Sometimes she can be a femme fatale; other times, she's the next Sally Field.

There's a thin line between interesting and irritating, and both Holmes and Abandon straddle it.

Abandon (PG-13; 99 min.), directed by and written by Stephen Gaghan, photographed by Libatique and starring Katie Holmes, Benjamin Bratt and Charlie Hunnam, plays at selected theaters valleywide.

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Web extra to the October 31-November 6, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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