The title of screenwriter David Koepp's directorial debut, The
Trigger Effect, is meant to reflect how one event--in this case, a
blackout--can trigger a chain of (largely unfavorable) events. The title
actually better describes the execution of the film than its basic plot--one
bad idea sets off a series of more bad ideas until the film becomes
Writer-director Koepp establishes the scene rather well, setting up
a promising psychodrama: the young married couple of Matt (Kyle MacLachlan)
and Annie (Elisabeth Shue) find their life thrown off balance when a massive
power outage paralyzes the city and Matt's best friend Joey (Dermot
Mulroney) comes to stay in their home. Matt is a somewhat stuffy elitist
who can reveal a more savage side when push comes to shove; Annie is a new
mother with a checkered past as a "wild child"; and Joey is the slightly
boorish, macho type. Having these three mercurial personalities stuck in a
claustrophobic setting and reverting to more primal instincts is fertile
fodder for a psychological thriller.
But all the promise is wiped away when the three (four including
Matt and Annie's daughter) decide to leave town and make a long, hard
journey through the desert and country to Annie's parents' house.
Interesting plot strands (such as Joey's slight awakening of Annie's wild
side) established in the house are abandoned for the conventional trappings
of a road picture. And the characters start to act like only those in a
movie would act in order to further the plot--for example, they decide to
make an unnecessary stop for fuel, which lands them right next to the car of
a mysterious stranger (Michael Rooker) who, of course, causes trouble. One
bad, credibility-straining plot turn lead to another until the weak, cliched
conclusion, one of those "things are back to normal but never will be the
same again" endings.
It's ironic that the directorial debut of celebrated screenwriter
Koepp (Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible) would fall short in the writing
department but show some life on the directorial end. While he cannot
generate enough suspense and forward momentum to carry the movie through
from beginning to end, he is able to create some suspenseful moments, such
as scenes involving a prowler and a pharmacy break-in. Visually, Koepp
tends to overdo blue (witness the fades to blue and more blue lighting than
your average X-Files episode), but he at least makes the whole package
visually interesting, and he coaxes decent performances from the stars, who
have to overcome some rather shallow characterizations.
Ultimately, The Trigger Effect will become a victim of its own
title--once word of mouth spreads on this unthrilling thriller, its minimal
box office power will be shut off.