‘Stolen’: Manipulative but dull

March 3, 2010

Launching on video-on-demand today (3/3/10) before hitting theaters in limited release on March 12, “Stolen” feels like a movie whose ambitions outstrip its talents.

 

Starring Jon Hamm and Josh Lucas (as fathers, separated by a half-century, whose sons disappear), “Stolen” pushes buttons that seem too easy, then tries to turn the film into something else. But what?

 

Hamm plays small-town lawman Thomas Adkins, who is haunted by the disappearance of his son eight years earlier. They were eating at a diner and Thomas told his boy, Tom Jr., to sit still long enough for Dad to use the john. But seemingly moments later when he returns, young Tom is gone, never to be seen again.

 

That’s the prologue to a story built around the discovery of a box containing the mummified remains of a child the same size as Tom Jr. on a building site in town. It’s not Adkins’ son – because the body has been there for 50 years. But it sets Adkins on a search for whose child it might be.

 

The film then jumps back to 1958, where a financially strapped laborer named Matthew Warfield (Josh Lucas) is struggling to make ends meet. His wife is ill, his house is on the verge of foreclosure and he’s got three growing boys, including one who seems to be mentally handicapped. When his wife kills herself, he packs up the boys and takes them to live with his wife’s sister while he looks for work.

 

But his brother-in-law refuses to care for the youngest (“The retard,” as people refer to him). So Matthew leaves the other two and sets off with John, the youngest, in tow. (Need I mention that his other two boys are named Mark and Luke – and that when he finds a construction job and mentions that he’s a church-goer, his coworkers nickname him “Christian”?)

 

From there, “Stolen” moves back and forth in time, as Adkins tries to ID the mummy and Matthew tries to make ends meet (until his son John vanishes). Given the casting, it’s not hard to figure out who the body belongs to (or who the killer is, for that matter), but the tension in the film is so slack that you’ll have a hard time engaging, even with a tale of child endangerment.

 

It’s almost as if director Anders Anderson, aware of just how easy it is to manipulate an audience with a child-snatching, bent over backwards the other way, robbing the film of suspense or even much mystery. The whole thing has the feel of a bad New Yorker short story.

 

Lucas is forced to play aw-shucks goodness (except when he finds himself drawn to a slatternly gas-station owner’s wife, played by Morena Baccarin). Hamm is strait-jacketed by a role that calls for grim stolidity, opposite Rhona Mitra as his equally long-suffering wife

 

None of them make much of an impression in “Stolen.” But then, neither does the film itself.

 

 

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