Wednesday, February 29, 2012

All that's "Gone" is your time

Gone (2012)
94 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: C -
Ashley Judd might've starred in the woman-in-peril thriller "Gone" had she not grown so long in the tooth in that subgenre (and now taking her strong, stop-at-nothing presence to the small screen). Instead, Amanda Seyfried plays The One That Got Away, but no, this isn't a romantic comedy. She plays Jill Conway, a Portland waitress who survived being abducted by an unseen man a year ago and thrown into a hole in the woods. The police never found him or any evidence (including signs of forced entry and the hole) so they threw the case away, thinking she made it up. The resulting trauma that Jill experiences is a big deal because she inadvertently beats up her self-defense trainer and sets her phone alarm to pop three pills each day.

The early morning of her sister Molly's (Emily Wickersham) final exam, Jill comes back home from the late shift to wake up Molly, but she's not in her bed or their house. Jill declares Molly missing, from no sight of her pajamas or purse and no answering of her cell phone, and suspects "He" is back. With no help from Sgt. Powers (Daniel Sunjata) or the others after presenting her theory, Jill says, "I'll sleep when he's dead," with a gun in her purse and Nancy Drew skills to find clues, create pathological lies to those she interrogates, and crack the mystery. Or, and it's a big "or," is Jill just overreacting and Molly could be sleeping off a hangover instead of attending her final?
"Gone" is the kind of thriller that could go one of two ways. 1) The girl-who-cried-wolf could be telling the truth: there's really an untraceable/uncatchable serial kidnapper out there. 2) All of this could be in Jill's head, or she could have multiple personality disorder. The direction the film takes at least doesn't feel like a cheat (pulling the rug out with a nonsensical psychobabble twist), but that silver lining doesn't erase the fact that "Gone" is still pedestrian and run-of-the-mill. 

Director Heitor Dhalia (making his English-language debut) infuses the film with a cold, desaurated color palette and refreshingly makes use of Oregon locations. But once the clock starts ticking, the film moves lethargically during Jill's race to find Molly. Every now and then, at arbitrary times, we get haphazard cuts to Jill's conscious/unconscious memories of her kidnapper. At one point, when Jill snoops around a certain suspect's seedy apartment, a cat jumps out of a closet. It's a hoary horror-movie trick that Dhalia should know better not to include, but it feels like a last-ditch effort to keep his audience awake.

Not knowing if Molly was really kidnapped or if it's all in Jill's head may add some mild intrigue, but Allison Burnett's (2008's "Untraceable") screenplay spends so much time setting up red herrings and suggesting Jill is just loco. Could it be mysterious Detective Hood (Wes Bentley) who likes his ladies "a little crazy?" Is it the Squirrelly Neighbor That Hasn't Slept Since His Wife Died? Or the Rapey-Eyed Guy? Will one of them take up Buffalo Bill's line, "Put the lotion in the basket?" Or is Jill just cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs? One scene points to that when she unnecessarily tailgates a locksmith van, nearly causing an accident, and later pulls out a gun that puts her on the Portland Police Department's radar as Most Armed and Dangerous. 

Seyfried has made plenty of more interesting film choices before, but as Jill, she's stuck in first gear as the film becomes a whole lot of "See Jill Run." Remaining bug-eyed with her baby blue saucers, she at least makes Jill a smart, prepared sleuth, until Jill is lead via cell phone into the dark woods of Forest Park (where Molly may or may not be), and constantly gets out of the car with the door open. On the contrary, it's not until these scenes that the film actually generates a feeling of unease. 

It's pretty clear why Summit Entertainment decided not to release the indifferent "Gone" in advance for review. This might've brought back bad memories of 2007's "I Know Who Killed Me," that inane Lindsay Lohan stinker, but it's not interesting or bad enough. Based on the total of three sort-of car chases, the distributors might classify their finished product as a thriller, but it's not. Posing as more, the film makes us think it's psychological, but it's really not. A whodunit? That would cost some spoilers, but let's just say, "Gone" should refer to the time you've invested to find out. Aside from the talented Seyfried as its heroine and a wasted supporting cast of familiars, this suspenser is no more than a TV movie that got lucky with a theatrical exhibition.

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