[Screen It]

(2002) (Kevin Bacon, Charlize Theron) (R)

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Suspense/Thriller: When a trio of criminals, who think they've masterminded the perfect crime, kidnaps their daughter, a married couple decides to fight back and take matters into their own hands.
Karen (CHARLIZE THERON) and Will Jennings (STUART TOWNSEND) seem to have the perfect life. Living in a lakefront home with their six-year-old daughter, Abby (DAKOTA FANNING), things seem going their way. Yet, when Will flies off to attend an anesthesiologist conference, their world is suddenly turned upside down.

That's because Joe (KEVIN BACON) and Cheryl Hickey (COURTNEY LOVE), along with Joe's cousin, Marvin (PRUITT TAYLOR VINCE), set into motion what they believe to be a perfect crime. With Cheryl at Will's conference to keep dibs on him, Joe kidnaps Abby and sends her off with Marvin who takes her to a remote cabin in the woods.

Their 24-hour plan is to force Karen and Will to ante up a million dollar ransom in exchange for Abby's life. If Joe or Cheryl doesn't call in every 30 minutes, Marvin is to kill the girl. Although he's not happy about having to do that or the situation in general, he's willing and able to follow his orders.

As the plan continues with Joe and Karen, Cheryl and Will, and Marvin and Abby in different locations, the Jennings try to figure out how to save their daughter. In doing so and upon discovering the real motivations behind the kidnappers' actions, Karen and Will set out to turn the tables on the abductors and rescue Abby any way they can.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
I've written before about how some films benefit from some event occurring around the time of their release that manages to help them in terms of good or at least interest-building promotion. When the reverse is true, however, studios usually move or even shelve their projects to avoid the bad publicity tie-in or tapping into negative viewer feelings.

Such was the case with the various films postponed after initially being scheduled in the post Sept 11th release slots. Similarly, it was worried that "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys" might be hurt by its title suggesting it was about priestly indiscretions (it wasn't on either account).

That said, perhaps Columbia Pictures should have thought twice about releasing "Trapped." That's not only because it's a poor to mediocre suspense thriller, but also because its subject matter regarding kidnapped children being put into harm's way probably won't sit well with viewers who keep hearing disturbing, real-life news about such children being abducted and killed.

Of course, the filmmakers - director Luis Mandoki ("Angel Eyes," "Message in a Bottle") and screenwriter Greg Iles (making his debut) - couldn't foresee today's climate while making the picture, and other similarly themed films, such as 1996's "Ransom," have pretty much played off similar material. Nevertheless, that sort of premise just won't sit well with many viewers whose theatrical absence will probably send this effort out of the theaters and onto video rather quickly.

It doesn't help matters that from a thriller standpoint, it isn't executed that well, particularly in its third act. Based on the novel "24 Hours" by author-turned screenwriter Iles, the story is split into three parts that simultaneously occur as the plot unfolds. Unlike the quad-screen "Time Code," however, they don't simultaneously appear on the screen (although that might have made things more intriguing).

One part concerns the dealings of the mastermind of the crime - played by Kevin Bacon ("Hollow Man," "My Dog Skip") - interacting with the mother -- Charlize Theron ("The Curse of the Jade Scorpion," "Sweet November") -- of the abducted child. No stranger to playing the villain, Bacon is okay in the role for a while, but is ultimately betrayed by his character's actions, motivation and the writer.

That's particularly true toward the end of the film where the explanation for his behavior is finally revealed but then clashes with what he's doing (including a sexual turn that's completely out of place considering the supposed catalyst). Theron is credible as the distraught mother, but is hampered by a mostly thankless role.

Her character's evolution from victim to aggressor is expected for a film like this and is designed to get viewers rooting for the requisite payback and comeuppance. Yet, the way in which it's all crafted and played out doesn't really engage the viewer (a point no doubt hampered by the unsavory material).

The second pairing has Stuart Townsend ("Queen of the Damned," "About Adam") and Courtney Love ("Man on the Moon," "200 Cigarettes") playing the first grouping's respective spouses in their own tit-for-tat match. Townsend ably plays the angry and concerned father who's also a seaplane pilot, a contrived point that's present only to add to the third act theatrics. Love pretty much plays the same sort of character she always does, a point that again actually works in her favor for the sort of character she's embodying.

The last pairing has Pruitt Taylor Vince ("Simone," "Nurse Betty") playing the somewhat dimwitted and uncertain man-child who's nothing more than a stereotype entrusted to watch after the young kidnapped girl played by Dakota Fanning ("I Am Sam," "Sweet Home Alabama"). Although her performance is occasionally a bit stiff, for the most part it works.

The same holds true for the overall plot in terms of the good guys turn the tables on the bad guys perspective. Such stories are obviously designed to put the viewer into a vengeful state of mind and this one does, but only up to a point. After that, its predictable and poorly conceived and executed third act ultimately undermines the effort as the filmmakers try to conclude their offering with a bang.

The script - which never really sizzles with some much needed, sharp dialogue in the earlier confrontational moments - simply falls apart as things draw to a close. In the end, however, the unsavory subject matter ultimately does the film in. Few viewers are apt to find the thrills and chills entertaining considering what's at risk and what the film will remind them of. A victim of its own plot and bad timing, "Trapped" is just that and rates as only a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed September 20, 2002 / Posted September 21, 2002

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