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Mon, 27 Feb 2012
By Thomas Leupp
The odds are stacked against Amanda Seyfried in Gone, a suspense thriller in which the Mamma Mia! star plays an ex-kidnapping victim in search of her missing sister. As if an elusive serial killer, incredulous detectives, and a wobbly mental state weren't enough for her character to deal with, she must also battle the dual threat of a hackneyed script and a desperately unimaginative director. Under such circumstances, the poor girl hardly stands a chance. Neither do we.
Perhaps the only distinguishing feature of Gone is its setting: Portland, Oregon, an ostensibly pleasant city that, we soon learn, is host to all sorts of vaguely unsavory types. Into this strange milieu steps our doe-eyed heroine, Jill (Seyfried), a troubled young waitress whose sister (Emily Wickersham) appears to have disappeared – abducted, she believes, by the same man from whose clutches she narrowly escaped a year prior. Then again, Jill's mind hasn't exactly been right since her own abduction, so it's entirely possible that she's overreacting.
Whatever the case, Jill's theory regarding her sister's disappearance is met with skepticism by the local authorities, who tend to view her as a bit of a nutjob, leaving her little choice but to mount her own investigation. On the mean streets of the Rose City, she encounters one dubious character after another, any one of whom would seem to fit the bill of a would-be kidnapper/serial killer. The reclusive neighbor with the odd Scrubs fascination, the skeevy locksmith and his ex-con son, the drifter with the "rapey eyes," the creepy rookie detective (played by Wes Bentley, Elias Koteas-like in his ability to arouse instant suspicion) who "likes 'em crazy": Everyone's a suspect. Even her sister's boyfriend (Sebastian Stan), looks a bit dodgy – or maybe he's just tired. One can hardly blame him.
The folks at the Portland Tourism Commission needn't worry too much about Gone's portrayal of their fair city. At no point during Jill's meandering quest do we get the sense that she's in any real danger, despite the various obstacles that confront her. Brazilian director Heitor Dahlia, playing it determinedly safe in his English-language debut, does little to evoke much in the way of tension or menace in the film, serving up one half-hearted red herring after another. The prevailing atmosphere in Gone is one of encroaching boredom, manifesting shortly after the first act and slowly enveloping the film in its suffocating grasp.
Which is a bit of shame, really. Jam-packed with deliciously awful lines of dialogue, Allison Burnett's script is almost ideally suited for a tawdry high-camp wallow. Gone's best hope would have been to ditch any pretense of believability and aim for the trashy fun of an over-the-top, Single White Female-esque thriller. (To that end, the issue of Jill's sanity -- or possible lack thereof -- is fatally under-exploited. I longed for a Usual Suspects-esque closing sequence in which all the film's terrible lines were revealed to be an invention of her mind. Spoiler alert: This does not happen.) Indeed, there are times when the film flirts with an enlivening detour into crazytown, only to turn back, as if mandated by some buzzkilling GPS. Soon we are back on track, on the path to dullsville.
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