Director: Luis Mandoki
Cast: Charlize Theron, Kevin Bacon, Courtney Love, Stuart Townsend, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Dakota Fanning
MPAA Rating: (for violence, language and sexual content)
Running Time: 1:39
Release Date: 9/20/02
Review by Mark Dujsik
Trapped is a relatively effective little potboiler until its absurd, contrived, overblown, and entirely implausible finale. There are a few other little and big missteps throughout the movie, but they’re all overshadowed and magnified by the last twenty or so minutes. All the underdeveloped or absent character work and the plot inconstancies or lapses in judgment are all set running in the chaotic fervor to give us something extravagant in the way of a climax. It’s extravagant all right, but only in that it abandons everything that’s come before it and puts what’s left in a mindless action movie. The inmates are running the asylum, and they have typewriters. Yes, this may be one of the single worst conclusions ever put to film. It shames even the most predictable or ridiculously contrived of twist endings—the cheapest, most random deus ex machina resolutions. Witnessing the last reel of Trapped is to see something brilliantly awful.
How it achieves any kind of brilliance is surprising, considering how pedestrian it starts out. The Jennings family lives a carefree, comfortable lifestyle, but, like all affluent families in thrillers, it’s about to change. While going about some routine activities, Karen Jennings (Charlize Theron) is startled by the presence of a creepy guy named Joe (Kevin Bacon) in her house. Joe tells her that he and his associates have kidnapped her daughter Abby (Dakota Fanning), but that she’ll be fine as long as she and her husband Will (Stuart Townsend), a respected and renowned anesthesiologist, follow their instructions. The kidnappers are pros at this; they should be, as they’ve done it four times before. While Joe keeps Karen in the house, his wife Cheryl (Courtney Love) keeps Will confined to a hotel room, and their partner Marvin (Pruitt Taylor Vince) holds Abby in a remote location. The kidnappers keep strict half-hour checks with each other by cell phone, and if all goes as planned, the whole thing only takes twenty-four hours. There are a few snags, though, like the fact that Abby has severe asthma and that her parents aren’t the passive type to allow this to happen without a fight.
There’s nothing particularly striking about Trapped’s setup or execution to make it stand out. We’ve got the basics of this plot engraved in our brains by now, and we can pretty much figure out how everything will play out before most of the twists begin to happening. Tension is relatively absent, mostly because Abby is mistakenly kept on screen for so long, and we know she’s in no danger whatsoever. The screenplay by Greg Iles (based on his novel 24 Hours) seems to be playing into that fact. Characters do things in this movie because we expect them to, even if it goes against all logic or whatever tiny character development is present. For example, why do Karen and Will put up a fight when Joe and his comrades show absolutely no signs of causing harm to Abby unless they put up a fight? Is the quarter of a million dollars more important to them then her safety? And then there’s the script’s most laughable weak point in Courtney Love’s character. She is the culmination of characters who act only to serve the screenplay. Her motivation should be clear: she’s loyal to her husband and wants this plan to succeed. Why then, in a key moment, does she believe Will about a story in the past despite being told differently from people not being held at gunpoint?
When the movie does trick us into caring (and it does for a while), it’s because of a few surprisingly strong performances. Primarily, we have Charlize Theron and Kevin Bacon. Theron is quite good in a performance that could have marked her arrival as a star if the material weren’t so rough and her character pushed into the background near the end. Bacon is always good at creepy parts, and there’s no exception here. The scenes these two actors have together mark the best in the movie, especially a seduction scene that slowly turns into a torture scene. If the script had focused on these two, there might have been something. The rest of the cast does what it can with their parts. Courtney Love might be giving a good performance, but it’s impossible to tell because of the character’s complete lack of believability. Stuart Townsend is effective enough but finds himself the instrument of the ridiculous finale. Dakota Fanning is a very talented young actress. Pruitt Taylor Vince adds another caring eccentric role to his resume and is good at it, but he’s much better than that.
It’s amazing what a good cast can do for a dud, but there’s no saving Trapped. It would be possible—difficult, but possible—to overlook the flaws throughout the plot and simply regard them as necessary requirements to making most thrillers work, but it would take someone as forgiving and compassionate as Gandhi to look at the climax and not see rubbish.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.