Saturday, April 10, 2010

Trapped (Columbia, 2002)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The Lifetime film was Trapped, which turned out to be not a made-for-TV effort but a 2002 movie that actually had a theatrical release, and a pretty starry (or at least B-list starry) cast at that: Charlize Theron and Scott Townsend as Will and Karen Jennings, the young upper-class couple whose daughter Abby (Dakota Fanning) is kidnapped by a gang of three led by Joe Hickey (Kevin Bacon), his wife Cheryl (Courtney Love — oddly billed second, below Theron but ahead of Townsend and Bacon!) and his cousin Marvin (Pruitt Taylor Vince). The gimmick is that each of these three is responsible for contacting one of the victims — Marvin holds the child while Hickey keeps the wife under wraps for 24 hours and Cheryl does the same with the husband. Trapped might have been a good, tight-knit thriller except for ridiculously over-the-top plotting by Greg Iles (who wrote the screenplay based on his own novel, 24 Hours, a title the filmmakers abandoned because they were worried it would be confused with the Fox TV series 24) and even more outrageously gimmicky and ridiculous direction by Luis Mandoki.

Mandoki’s directorial principle is never use a straightforward camera angle when an oblique one will do; never light a scene clearly and plainly if he can figure out a way to make it difficult to see what’s going on; never use classical suspense editing when he can work out an arrangement of shots that makes it seem like the film was put together in a blender; and don’t work out a genuinely thrilling ending when he can come up with a visually outrageous and dramatically unbelievable one. There are some interesting bits in this film, most of them involving sex — Cheryl approaches Dr. Jennings (did I mention that he’s a world-renowned anaesthesiologist who’s just invented a new chemical that is going to make him and the drug company he works for a ton of money?) at a medical convention as if she’s a groupie cruising him and only when he protests that he’s married and rejects her (Charles would have approved!) does she let slip that she’s part of the gang that’s kidnapped his daughter and he’d better come with her if he wants to see the girl alive again; and later Hickey makes his own move on Karen (who’s some sort of celebrity in her own right — as we learn when Mandoki shows us a couple of insert shots of a magazine in which she’s featured) and she turns the tables on him by grabbing one of her husband’s scalpels and threatening him with an instant D.I.Y. castration.

But the film suffers from too many intersecting plot lines and too little attempt to maintain continuity between them, let alone keep our sympathies with the victims — and though the reversals aren’t quite as outrageous as in some thriller plots lately (can you say Duplicity — a movie in which the real duplicity was being practiced by writer-director Tony Gilroy on the audience?), they are a little hard to take. We’re told initially that the kidnappers are thoroughly professional and have pulled off this scheme four times before — and have avoided capture precisely by following a strict set of rules Joe laid down — but later we’re told that this particular crime isn’t randomly targeted: Joe’s and Cheryl’s own daughter died in an operation in which Dr. Jennings was the anaesthesiologist, and they’re out for revenge against him as well as the ransom payment.

We’re also told that Abby has severe asthma and needs medications or she is likely to have an attack that will kill her (a gimmick done much better in a less pretentious and much more entertaining Lifetime movie that was made for TV, 12 Hours to Live — though in that movie the potentially lethal disease was diabetes, not asthma), and the final scene sails totally over the top and back again: Will chases the kidnappers in his own private plane (it’s been established earlier that he owns one, a seaplane but one that has retractable wheels so it can land on land or water) and lands on the freeway to give chase to them — that part actually makes sense; the touchdown speed for a propeller-driven private plane is 60 miles per hour, about the normal cruising speed on a freeway — only his efforts are complicated by the appearance of a large logging truck, and both Will and Karen have to throw themselves under the truck to save their own lives. (Charlize Theron actually hurt her left leg doing the sequence and the film had to be shut down briefly while she recovered.) Trapped is the sort of frustrating bad movie that could have been good — not great, but at least reliable entertainment — if the filmmakers had just known when to stop; instead it wastes a good story premise and a capable cast (though, oddly, the lesser-known Townsend and Love outshine Theron and Bacon as actors) on a story and a directorial approach that end up being more silly than frightening. It’s entirely appropriate that the company that did digital effects for this film has the name “Post Logic”!