daniel ferrer looks at abc’s new ashley judd starring thriller…
Missing had some pretty terrific promos. I know that sounds banal, but I really wanted to start this review with something positive, and to do that, I had to dig pretty deep. It’s been a rocky mid-season (most are), but Missing is the bottom egg of a very rotten basket. They did a real bang-up job with the promos, though.
As a quick and dirty explanation of the story, you could call Missing a gender-swapped adaptation of Taken. Unfortunately, you could also say that as a long-form synopsis. Missing follows Ashley Judd as Rebecca Winstone, a highly protective parent of an only child who is abducted while abroad in Europe. Without missing a beat, the homely Winstone drops her soccer mom façade in order to ass-kick her way to some answers. I admire the fact that the writers were economical enough to do the bulk of their cliché-shopping in one film, but they make a very grave mistake in assuming what made Taken a success was its log-line. Missing lacks the love of visceral tension and disdain for genre bullshit that elevated a schlocky Neeson vehicle to a wickedly exciting schlocky Neeson vehicle.
Missing doesn’t even seem to care much for its own premise, either. No detail is given to the mother-son dynamic. They’re introduced, and then they depart. Michael Winstone is nothing more than a teenaged macguffin. The show tends to lean more heavily towards Becca’s CIA origins, which is a wonder because the only criminal espionage savvy demonstrated by the writers is that they’re pretty sure the CIA has filing cabinets or something. Time that could have been devoted to exploring the relationship of mother and son is spent rehashing scenes from 80s cop flicks. Scenes like the impromptu girl-on-girl karate fight on a speeding train or the midnight infiltration of a dark warehouse guarded by nameless thugs. Missing is lousy with clichés, to point where you expect every scene to end with a capsized fruit stand. If Friedberg and Setzer [the producers of Scary Movie, Epic Movie, etc.] ever collaborate to make a film called Movie Movie, it will probably be fairly close to Missing, but with more scatology.
Even the most mediocre TV shows can be granted a flimsy justification for their existence. Cheesy multi-cam sitcoms like Two and a Half Men can stay afloat because they don’t require a lot of cultural literacy or even a familiarity with the characters to get a laugh. Likewise, the standard cop-and-doctor procedurals can make it because the audience can come and go as they please. But I couldn’t come up with a justification for Missing to save my life. What could’ve at least succeeded as simple, visceral entertainment is instead weighed down by a story that leaves us completely baffled. Not baffled in any sense that makes us want to tune in next week, but baffled in a way that makes it impossible to watch a scene without furrowed brows and pleas of “who writes this shit?”
Normally, when I give an unfavorable review, I can at least admit that it might be worth your time if you have a taste for the genre or a lack of something better to do. I’m a pop culture elitist, and entertainment is subjective. But do you know what’s not subjective? Missing’s only success is in exhausting what’s already been exhausted by countless failed pilots and straight-to-video action flicks.
Killer promos, though.