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Oh, Ashley Scott, it seems you can hardly catch a break when it comes to Lifetime movies. Before being cast in the schlock that was Fatal Defense, you were in this MarVista-made "thriller" where you had to deal with both a psychotic ephebophile and—even worse—a 16-year-old daughter!
Though in the 16-year-old's defense, her childhood wasn't exactly the best. As a young girl, Abbey (Lizze Broadway) was abducted along with her father and helplessly watched as the hooded kidnapper bludgeoned her father to death as he helped her escape his clutches. Now years later, the teenage Abbey is resentful at her mother, FBI Agent Julia (Scott), marrying a new man. After an intense argument between her mother and her stepfather Daniel (David Starzyk), Abbey decides to run away from home with Gavin (Mark Hapka), the older man she's been chatting with online for the past few years.
As you can imagine, once Abbey disappears, Julia goes full-on badass Mama Bear and works to track her down. Meanwhile, as Abbey begins to kindle a romance with Gavin after learning he's much older than she originally thought, the teen begins to learn that Gavin might not be all that he seems to be... and that he has a terrifying plan in store for her and her mother.
UGH. That's the best way to describe much of this film—and this is mostly a result of Abbey's incomprehensibly bitchy behavior. Even by the standards set by Lifetime for bratty teens, Abbey is notoriously insufferable. Her supposed feelings of being abandoned and neglected by her mother in favor of her new husband and stepchildren comes completely out of left-field, considering it's coming after her mother bought her a new car for her birthday, and her belief that her new stepsiblings are brats comes from the simple fact that they accidentally bumped into her in the kitchen. You'd get less of a headache watching a Teen Mom marathon.
Abbey's behavior doesn't just derail her own character, but it also casts bad insinuations on Julia. While Julia is shown to be a great FBI agent willing to move Heaven and earth to save Abbey, you can't help but wonder why she wouldn't get her daughter therapy after witnessing her husband's murder. It's completely uncharacteristic, considering how on-the-ball Julia is otherwise portrayed as throughout the film.
The plot, for the most part, keeps things going at a pace to keep audiences watching. Ashley Scott is great to watch as a determined mother willing to risk it all to save her child, and her confrontation with Gavin in the film's climax is appropriately dark and intense. But since much of it is focused on Abbey with Gavin, and thoroughly falling for his seductions, some viewers will be begging for Julia to hurry up and find her kid already. Basically, the plot will have you staying for Ashley Scot being badass, and praying you don't get a migraine from Abbey's whining.
Then there's the villain, who I can't really talk about properly without spoiling the film's twist. And with that, consider this a SPOILER ALERT:
Gavin, as it turns out, was Abbey's attempted kidnapper and her father's murderer. After he failed to get Abbey, he tracked her down online and began an online relationship with her, coaxing her into falling in love with him and agree to run away with him when she was old enough. Additionally, Gavin's father was Julia's former partner, who she was forced to shoot and kill when she learned he was a dirty cop, and Gavin's plan was motivated by revenge.
First off, even by the standards set by Lifetime in the past, there's a glaring hole in this backstory. It's established that Gavin is in his 20s and that Abbey's attempted kidnapping occurred more than ten years prior, thus making Gavin an adolescent at that time. Considering the size of the kidnapper as we see him in flashbacks, Gavin being that young at the time of his horrendous crime is immensely implausible. Additionally, his shared past with Julia comes completely out of left field, and feels like it was added at the last minute (as if we needed more reason to know Gavin was a psycho).
All of that said, 16 and Missing still has a few things to offer for Lifetimers that save this movie from complete catastrophe. Ashley Scott is top notch as usual, and Mark Hapka is effectively icky as our film's villain. He also earned some brownie points with me for giving Abbey the KO I was wanting to give her through my TV screen.
But to my surprise, my favorite character is someone who is barely even present in the movie: Stella Hudgens (sister of High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens) as Abbey's best friend Janelle. She's present during Abbey's opening fight with her family and preparations for running away with Gavin, and throughout the entire ordeal, Stella acts as basically the mirrored version of Abbey. She's clearly uncomfortable by her friend's behavior and, as soon as she learns of Abbey's plans to run away with a man she'd met online, she calls her out on her reckless decisions and attempts to persuade her to come home once she's gone, despite her callous rejection of her concern. It's a humanizing moment for Lifetime teens, and one much needed in a movie where a main character does the character type such a disservice.
Overall, 16 and Missing was another MarVista movie that, with a few rewrites, could've been something much more entertaining than it was. While it's still certainly watchable, the Unintentionally Unsympathetic main protagonist, plot holes, and drawn out second act might turn some viewers away. I'd recommend this movie simply for Ashley Scott and Stella Hudgens, but it's not something you'll want to watch again.
Score: 3 out of 10 rain slickers.