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Review by Dustin Putman
2 stars out of 4
"Trapped," a particularly grisly kidnapping thriller directed by Luis
Mandoki (2001's "Angel Eyes"), is being released at the wrong time
under the wrong circumstances. With numerous child abduction cases
sweeping the country as of late, Columbia Pictures has wrongfully
decided to downplay the marketing of the picture, barring the actors
from promoting it and sending it out into theaters without advance
screenings for reviews. What the studio has done, then, is shot its
own film in the foot, more or less ensuring its failure to find an audience.
That said, "Trapped" is undoubtedly superior to the majority of theatrical
releases that come out without early press screenings. A studio hiding
a movie almost always means one thing--it is a veritable dud (see
"The Adventures of Pluto Nash" for a recent example)--but "Trapped"
is taut, well-made on a technical level, and memorably performed.
It also happens to be thoroughly unpleasant. For all of the expertise
found in front of and behind the camera, it cannot shield the somewhat
cheap manipulation it holds by providing entertainment in the form
of a harmless child being kidnapped and having her life constantly threatened.
Anesthesiologist Will Jennings (Stuart Townsend) and wife Karen (Charlize
Theron) are a wealthy young couple who share a spacious lakeside home
in the state of Washington with six-year-old daughter Abby (Dakota
Fanning). No sooner has Will set off for a conference in a nearby
town is Abby ruthlessly snatched away from Karen by Marvin (Pruitt
Taylor Vince). The main perpetrator, Joe Hickey (Kevin Bacon), takes
Karen hostage, informing her that Abby will be returned if his $250,000
ransom is met in 24 hours. Meanwhile, Joe's wife and partner, Cheryl
(Courtney Love), confronts Will of the news about his daughter. What
these veteran kidnappers do not expect, however, is that Karen and
Will are strong-willed individuals themselves who refuse to play the "helpless victims."
"Trapped" gets off to a too-rapid start that hampers all of its early
moments. The viewer is hardly given more than a brief glimpse of its
lead heroes, Karen and Will, before they are thrust into the high-stakes,
life-threatening plot. By cutting to the chase without a moment of
hesitation proves problematic because, through the course of the film,
you must find a way to care and sympathize for the characters on your
own. In truth, very little depth is ever presented to Karen and Will,
aside from the basic roles they take in their lives and their cunning
abilities to outwit the villains. As the desperate-beyond-words Karen
Jennings, Charlize Theron (2001's "Sweet November") runs the emotional
gamut from angry to seductive to horrified and gives the part her
all. But Stuart Townsend, as husband Will, is not nearly as arresting
here as he was in 2002's "Queen of the Damned."
As reliably predictable and typical as the plot developments in "Trapped"
are, credit screenwriter Greg Iles (who also wrote the novel "24 Hours"
from which it is based upon) for giving the kidnappers a mildly believable
purpose and a clear consciousness behind their icy facades. Likewise,
Kevin Bacon (2000's "Hollow Man") and, especially, Courtney Love (1999's
"Man on the Moon"), are utterly captivating as criminals Joe and Cheryl.
Bacon, who can effortlessly float between the most virtuous and inhumane
of roles, is wickedly good as he attempts to both threaten and seduce
Karen. For Love, this is the meatiest performances she has given since
1996's "The People vs. Larry Flynt," portraying Cheryl as a woman
whose forceful first impression gives way to a notably more insecure
person who can't help but regret many of the decisions she has made in her past.
"Trapped" spins its wheels for the first hour, emotionally unsettling,
but a clear rehash of 1996's Mel Gibson/Rene Russo picture, "Ransom."
The ways in which Karen and Will inevitably turn the tables on their
captors are old hat by now--for Will, beating Cheryl down by revealing
the scared person she really is, and for Karen, using her sexual desirability
to wrap Joe around her finger. The surprisingly elaborate climax,
on the other hand, boasts a set of thrilling action set-pieces (one
involving a falling helicopter, another concerning a mass traffic
accident), and an undoubted showmanship that is quite impressive.
Still, to what end does director Luis Mandoki's overblown action work serve?
There is a curious off-putting quality to "Trapped" that gnaws at
you, even as you are intrigued by its performances, its style (the
gloomy, atmospheric cinematography by Frederick Elmes and the late
Piotr Sobicinski), and, yes, its staircase to almost unbearable intensity.
The premise is a dead-serious one, but the subject matter is not treated
seriously. Nearly every twist and turn is carefully, but too obviously,
orchestrated to provide neat, "movie"-style explanations. There is
an element of needless exploitation that "Trapped" ultimately never
transcends, particularly as director Mandoki reveals his single-minded
intention to provide nothing more substantial than "mindless entertainment."
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman