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Dustin's Review
Trapped (2002)
2 Stars

Directed by Luis Mandoki
Cast: Charlize Theron, Kevin Bacon, Stuart Townsend, Courtney Love, Dakota Fanning, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Colleen Camp
2002 – 100 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for violence, language, and sexual content).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, September 21, 2002.

"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."

©2002 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman