Sign up for our free newsletter

Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.

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