Apparently not wanting to call attention to the fact that it's releasing a emotionally exploitive child abduction B-movie thriller at a time when AMBER Alerts are being issued almost weekly, Warner Bros. sneaked "Trapped" into theaters this weekend without holding any advance screenings.
This practice is usually reserved for pictures the studios are embarrassed to have made at all ("Pluto Nash," anyone?). "Trapped" isn't as bad as all that, but it is a film that has to get stupid -- really stupid -- in order to resolve its plot.
A rehash of Mel Gibson's "Ransom" with younger, prettier parents fighting back against their child's kidnappers, the film stars the luscious Charlize Theron ("Sweet November") and darkly charming Stuart Townsend ("Queen of the Damned") as a rich, happy young couple with a lakefront, Architectural Digest home but without much credibility as parents to a pretty 6-year-old daughter (Dakota Fanning, "I Am Sam").
Kevin Bacon (in cocky scumbag mode), ex-rocker Courtney Love (in one-step-above cue card mode) and Pruitt Taylor Vince (in "Duh, George is my friend" mode) play semi-professional kidnappers with an allegedly foolproof plan -- Bacon and Love each babysit one parent in separate locations until the ransom is paid while Vince holds the kid to a remote cabin in the woods, waiting for the call to let her go.
But these abductors start giving away their highly-telegraphed weaknesses the moment the little girl is snatched from her bedroom while Daddy's away giving speeches at medical conventions about a new drug he's invented (it's a super-sedative that causes temporary paralysis -- you think that will come into play?).
Bacon starts slobbering all over Theron, practically inviting her to turn the tables by pretending to be aroused -- and when the movie gets lurid, it gets abrasive and dull-witted. Love takes a bath and a nap while supposedly keeping an eye on Townsend in his hotel room, providing more than enough opportunity for the good doctor to empty her gun's clip and ready himself a syringe of his sedative.
And Vince ("S1m0ne," "Nurse Betty" is just one of those unstable, simpleton lackeys with a nervous tic that movie bad guys always align themselves with for no good reason. He expresses misgivings about his role in all this from the get-go, and when Fanning starts bawling for her mommy, he smacks himself on the head obsessively and wails, "I don't like it when little girls cry!"
It's hard to believe these jokers are supposed to have pulled off four similar kidnappings before.
Director Luis Mandoki ("Angel Eyes") maintains the movie's tension from start to finish, thanks largely to the performances of the menacing Bacon, who really turns on the smarm, and the emotionally resourceful Theron, who eventually musters enough maternal fear and tears to turn the corner of parental credibility. But in making her character sharp enough to out-wit her captor, the film fails again and again because each time she takes the upper hand (which she does several times), she has to relinquish it in increasingly foolish and contrived ways to keep the plot from resolving too quickly.
"Trapped" (which was adapted by Greg Iles from his novel "24 Hours") begins to unravel when the kidnappers reveal an ulterior, personal motive for the kidnapping that punches huge holes in the plot. This begins a domino effect, and the film completely falls apart in the convoluted, far-fetched last act, which includes one villain's oh-so-convenient change of heart, an airplane chase stunt sequence and an absurd climax in which hundreds of witnesses stand around doing nothing while central characters fight for their lives.
Had Iles and Mandoki put a little logical elbow grease into solving these silly problems, "Trapped" might have made for a solid thriller. Instead the film turns out to have more unforeseen problems than Bacon's "perfect" crime.