- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 28, 2002

For almost an hour and a half, I was content to regard "Trapped" as one of the more loathsome movies of the year, or epoch, or whatever. Then, during the finale, it appends so much lunatic, mind-boggling chase spectacle to the loathsomeness that a new category of cinematic monstrosity seems to emerge from the primordial ooze. No longer one of the pack, "Trapped" becomes a bad movie in a class all its own.

A kidnapping melodrama, this phenomenal stinker revolves around a caper that backfires on a criminal mastermind named Joe (Kevin Bacon). Purportedly successful at four straight kidnappings, Joe targets the young daughter of a Portland, Ore., anesthesiologist and his wife, Bill and Karen Jennings (Stuart Townsend and Charlize Theron). Joe's idea of foolproof methodology is to divide and conquer. He strikes when husbands and wives are in different locales.

The children are kept in hiding with a cousin called Marvin, seemingly a big old softie in the person of Pruitt Taylor Vince but perhaps capable of snuffing the young and helpless if ransom is not paid. Joe assigns his wife, Cheryl (Courtney Love, looking pretty terrifying), to keep lewdly intimidating tabs on the husbands. He terrorizes and molests the wives, typically cornered when home alone in the wake of the abduction. Indeed, sexual blackmail appears to be Joe's main source of gratification. Mr. Bacon certainly labors under that impression, mistaking Joe's lechery for a really great chance to act the diabolical cynic and degenerate.

I would have preferred to see Miss Theron shoot Mr. Bacon with the bedroom revolver in the opening reel and take her chances with Marvin and Cheryl. They expect instructions from Joe on the half-hour by cell phone. That, in itself, must make for error-prone and debilitating vigils. Miss Theron also gets the drop on her tormentor with a scalpel while pretending to humor his sexual craving. In fact, she has a scalpel at his genitals, having cleverly concealed it in the back of her panties with the camera as a close observer. Happily, she does carve him up a bit in the thigh before surrendering Weapon No. 2. At which point Joe smugly quips, "That's the second mistake you've made."

After taking the gun, he had warned that she would be permitted only one mistake. Joe's crime management isn't all he insinuates. The husband has found it relatively easy to disarm Cheryl by sedating her in a hotel suite. Marvin seems to be growing too fond of little Abby Jennings (Dakota Fanning of "I Am Sam") to harm her. Joe's leverage is leaking even more noticeably than his blood. Did I mention his failure to case the Jennings family thoroughly enough to know that Abby was asthmatic and required medication regularly? That oversight rationalizes a first-act crisis in which Miss Theron's character has to be rushed to the vicinity of Marvin and Abby to keep the plot percolating.

In retrospect, the asthma digression should have alerted me to the desperate and whirlwind finale, which maps out a collision course between Marvin and Abby in one vehicle, Karen and Joe in another, and Bill and Cheryl in a private plane. Bill is a flying anesthesiologist, as it happens. This skill allows him to buzz the highway and cause a pileup that implicates a logging truck and a camper, whose passengers remain of no concern to the filmmakers. Writer Greg Iles and director Luis Mandoki have their hands full of wreckage, of course, but they keep all the principal characters up and running for postcollision shootings, chases and punch outs that defy credibility so lavishly that mere stupefaction and derision are inadequate responses.

"Trapped" goes so haywire that it achieves a kind of broken-down grandeur. Sampling such a berserk movie will persuade you anew that large sectors of the Hollywood industry have no idea of how to formulate a coherent or reputable melodrama. They must settle for laughable forms of degradation.

No stars

TITLE: "Trapped"

RATING: R (Systematic depraved context; frequent profanity, graphic violence and lurid sexual connotations; plot revolving around the kidnapping of a child)

CREDITS: Directed by Luis Mandoki. Screenplay by Greg Iles, based on his own novel, "24 Hours."

RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes


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