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Since I just spent my past two reviews praising Lifetime movies that take on the evils people use technology to commit, I thought it would be best to counteract them with a couple of films that show that not all Lifetime movies delving into the realm of cyberspace are always fantastic. I also feel like after the thorough bashing I gave to Blood, Sweat and Lies, I should remind my readers that not every product of MarVista Entertainment is a complete trainwreck.
Online Abduction (originally given the laughable title Cyber Case) centers around teenager Isabel Fletcher (Brooke Butler). Isabel's family initially appears to be the idyllic sort that often appear on Lifetime, consisting of her successful working mother Jackie (soap opera vet Natalia Livingston), her stepfather Matt Fletcher (Baywatch buff David Chokachi), and her three-year-old half-brother Tommy (Jackson Garner). But as the film's opening shows, Isabel isn't quite so happy with her family, feeling ignored by her parents in favor of Tommy.
In other movies like this, Isabel would quickly spiral into the bratty teenage daughter trope that has come to be reviled by many a Lifetime fan. But thankfully, in a subversion of that trope, Isabel never takes her frustrations out on Tommy by bullying him or lashing out at others needlessly. Her feelings of being the unfavorite are also not unjustified, as evidenced by a scene of her being able to sneak home after staying out late at a party without her parents even noticing.
Things only get worse for Isabel when, in an effort to help her busy mother, she offers to take Tommy to the park. When Isabel briefly leaves Tommy to get his lunch, she returns to discover him gone, much to her horror. With her mother distraught and her stepfather blaming her for his son's disappearance, Isabel must work with her boyfriend Jeremy (Matthew Ziff) to track Tommy down using the same thing his kidnapper used to find him: social media.
At first glance, the plot seems intriguing enough with a bit of nightmare fuel added that can be appreciated. The thought that a person with enough technological know-how can simply use photos posted online to track a person down is downright unnerving (which is fitting, considering the film originally premiered on Halloween 2015). But this concept, sadly, is seldom utilized or explored, with the plot instead turning into a Nancy Drew-esque escapade once Tommy goes missing. This could've provided for an interesting story, but instead of being a thrilling or innovative mystery, Online Abduction retreads the standard "finding-clues-and-leads-via-tech-savvy-allies" route that doesn't offer much entertaining factors. The closest Lifetime comes to being innovative with this concept is creating real life Twitter accounts for the movie, as has been done in previous MarVista-made movies.
Characters are also a mixed bag, as hardly anyone in the main or supporting cast truly sticks out as an entertaining character. Brooke Butler gives a sympathetic and likable performance as Isabel, making you feel sorry for the undue blame she faces for her half-brother's abduction and making you root for her to prove everyone wrong. David Chokachi also stands out among the cast—though for a reason that isn't admirable. From the second Tommy disappears, it seems that Matt's life goal became one thing: take every opportunity to make his already devastated stepdaughter feel miserable. Hell, it seems he spends more time doing that than actually looking for his missing son. It gets old very fast, and the fact that he's forgiven when he barely apologizes for his behavior only furthers the sting.
(Though in one defense of this insufferable character, it does make the film's surprise revelation regarding Tommy's kidnapping unintentionally cathartic).
Like many mediocre-at-best Lifetime features, the film's climax does do a little to help justify sitting through two hours of forgettable plot to get to it. Not only is the climatic standoff between Matt and his son's kidnapper intense, but Isabel further proves herself by stepping in to save the day. It's a satisfying end to a character the movie had been excessively harsh on, and seeing her end the movie with a smile really makes it all worth while.
Overall, though, Online Abduction was a movie that felt like it could've been better if more time had been devoted to improving the screenplay. The underwhelming acting may have been the result of a bad script leaving the players with little to work with, which would've made even the most uneventful plot easier to watch. It's far from Lifetime or MarVista's worst efforts, though, and Online Abduction will make for a good viewing. But after that, you won't be coming back.
Score: 4 out of 10 fish pebbles.