Monday, June 26, 2017

My Daughter Is Missing (MarVista Entertainment, Headlong Entertainment, Red Production, Benattar Thomas Productions, 2017)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I spent most of last night watching two Lifetime movies, getting my weekly “fix” of them — it seems that Lifetime has moved the “premiere” showings from Saturday to Sunday, which is going to be a problem once the new TV season starts if they conflict with other things I want to watch on Sunday nights, like the excellent CBS-TV series Madam Secretary and Elementary — last Saturday’s Lifetime movies were just reruns of things I’d already seen but last night they presented two that were new for me. First up was My Daughter Is Missing, which seems to have originated with writer Jenny Paul thinking about redoing the movie Taken (starring Liam Neeson as a father who’s frantically searching for his daughter, who’s been kidnapped by human traffickers) with a woman in the Neeson role. My Daughter Is Missing turned out to be an excellent thriller, unoriginal but exciting and well staged by director Tamar Halpern, who showed a real flair for neo-noir in color. It’s also interesting in that it’s not only set in Belgrade but was actually shot there, though one wonders how the producers (no fewer than four production companies are credited: MarVista Entertainment, Headlong Entertainment, Red Production and Benattar Thomas Productions) got the government of Serbia to let them film there when Paul’s script describes their country as a hotbed of human trafficking and official corruption. The plot centers around Sara (Miranda Raison), a middle-aged woman who was formerly a computer hacker — it’s what brought her and her husband together in the first place — only he got greedy and started using his hacking skills to steal from banks and people’s accounts. He got caught and the couple lost everything — they had to give up their house and everything else they owned to make restitution for the money he’d stolen — and ultimately they broke up and Sara was left to raise her daughter Karissa (Sophie Robertson) as a single parent. 

Sara, like a lot of real-life ex-hackers, found a legitimate way to make a living from her skills by becoming a computer security consultant for major corporations, and in that capacity she’s invited to give a speech at a computer security conference in Belgrade, which by coincidence is also where her daughter Karissa has gone to be an exchange student. Karissa is rooming with a Serbian girl named Lara (Jovana Stojilikovic), and after Sara gives her speech Karissa and Lara decide to go out clubbing to a spot called The Haven. What they don’t know is that what The Haven is a haven for is human traffickers — the owner is part of an elaborate ring working throughout Europe to kidnap young women and sell them on the “dark Web” as sex slaves to rich men — and while Karissa and Lara are having a thrilling night on the Belgrade club scene and being cruised by Dragan (Miodrag Radonjic), who unbeknownst to them is the traffickers’ recruiter, Sara is on a date of her own with Belgrade police captain Kozarski, the first man she’s been attracted to since she and her husband broke up. Dragan drugs Karissa’s and Lara’s drinks and Karissa, realizing what’s happened, attempts to call her mom but passes out before she can say much, and Dragan seizes her phone and steps on it. The two girls are taken by the sex ring and handed over to Mira (Milena Cucilovic), a red-headed woman overseer who in a lot of ways is the most interesting character in the piece, a grimly determined hatchet-faced woman whom I presume, based on how real-life traffickers operate, was once a trafficking victim herself and rose through the ranks from prostitute to madam. The scenes in which Mira, assigned to take pictures of the “merchandise” for their dark-Web site, vainly tries to get Karissa to smile so she’ll look more attractive to potential buyers are grimly amusing. At one point Karissa and Lara attempt to escape, but Lara is shot in the back and Karissa is recaptured — they’re less interested in Lara because Serbian girls are a dime a dozen, but an American will fetch a good deal more on the traffickers’ slave market — the traffickers leave Lara for dead on the street but she’s found alive and taken to a hospital. 

Sara risks her life sneaking into the back room of The Haven and downloading the security footage that shows exactly how her daughter and Lara were kidnapped — there’s a The Firm-style suspense sequence in which we wonder whether Sara will be able to finish downloading the files to her flash drive before she’s caught and thrown out, beaten or worse — only Sara makes the mistake of giving the flash drive to her cop friend Kozarski. Kozarski is so uninterested in investigating the case that we realize well before Sara does that he’s corrupt and in league with the traffickers. Fortunately there is an honest cop on the Belgrade force, Alek (Emmett J. Scanlan), though for a few acts both we and Sara are kept in some uncertainty as to which of the cops is honest and which is corrupt, and it’s not clear whether Alek is a local officer or an agent of Interpol, which is after the trafficking ring because it operates throughout Europe. Jenny Paul’s script tracks so closely to the Taken model that the final “auction” of Karissa takes place on a boat, and against impossible odds Sara and Alek manage to take out the kidnappers and get Karissa back — while the fellow computer geeks at the conference Sara was in Belgrade to speak at (ya remember the conference?) helped her trace the location of the “auction” and downloaded enough information from the ring’s computers that Interpol will be able to take it down. Despite its derivativeness, My Daughter Is Missing is actually a quite good thriller; director Halpern maintains the suspense and tension and moves the story along fast enough we don’t have time to think about the plot improbabilities (like why on earth the traffickers waited to kidnap Karissa and Lara until Karissa’s mom was in town — one would think they could have grabbed her earlier and never got caught). The piece is also quite well acted, with Sophie Robertson especially convincing as the resourceful young woman who keeps her wits about her in a terrible situation and remains focused on how she can get out of it. Despite the rather clinical title (though the working title, Missing in Europe, was even more blah), My Daughter Is Missing is a quite impressive piece of work that manages to do its job even if it does seem like you’ve seen it before.