We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

The Missing’s biggest illusion isn’t the paleface who lives as an Injun. It’s that the movie itself looks like a gorgeous, well-made Western, full of good-vs.-evil adventure, familial conflict, and even touches of evil-hoodoo mysticism, but is really just a big snooze. The Searchers-esque plot, based on a novel by Thomas Eidson, follows headstrong doctor Maggie Gilkeson (Cate Blanchett) as she attempts to rescue her abducted teenage daughter, Lilly (Evan Rachel Wood), from a band of Apaches who aim to sell her into prostitution. Along for the seemingly never-ending ride are her estranged father, cowboy-turned-Indian Samuel Jones (Tommy Lee Jones), and her younger daughter, Dot (Jenna Boyd). For director Ron Howard, this trek into the late-19th-century Southwest is uncharacteristically dark but not terribly deep, setting able acting from Blanchett, Jones, and (most impressively) Boyd against sweeping, stark vistas of the snow-capped New Mexican frontier. But scripter Ken Kaufman makes his tough-as-nails characters hard to care for and their conflicts tough to believe: Maggie’s huffy attitude toward Samuel, who abandoned her mother when Maggie was young, seems more the result of a tiff rather than years of resentment, and her own difficulties with a restless Lilly make their parting feel predictable rather than poignant. The many setbacks Team Maggie encounters (a left-behind hairbrush, a giveaway glint of binoculars) are infuriating in their simplemindedness—and because they’re all perpetrated by dopey females, they also undercut what initially seems to be a politely postfeminist story of smart, courageous heroines. Although a supernatural angle to the cat-and-mouse adds a little local color, it can’t hide what the The Missing really is: one drawn-out, by-the-numbers rescue scene. By the time the second attempt to save Lilly is botched, not even the strongest Apache magic could keep the audience caring. —Tricia Olszewski