Los Angeles Times


Times Staff Writer

"Trapped," which opened Friday, is not the kind of unwatchable mess you might assume a film withheld from reviewers' scrutiny would be. It is, however, something equally unfortunate: a mess you'd rather not be watching.

"Trapped" is directed by Luis Mandoki in a style far from his previous syrupy "When a Man Loves a Woman" and "Message in a Bottle." Starring Kevin Bacon and Charlize Theron in a creep show about vulnerable parents and sadistic kidnappers, it's slickly made and even has a performance or two worth mentioning.

But, true to its title, it traps audiences in a series of relentlessly nasty situations that we would pay a considerable ransom not to be looking at. How torture like this came to be entertainment is anybody's guess.

According to a Los Angeles Times story by Anita M. Busch, "Trapped" (adapted by Greg Iles from his own novel) was released without benefit of media attention because the studio felt queasy that the film's theme of child kidnapping was hitting a little too close to reality. As Busch wrote, the film was opening at the end of "what seemed like an endless summer of child kidnappings and murders."

While Sony's attempt to act with social responsibility, if that's what it is, is well and good, the bigger question is why the studio put a film this questionable and unsavory into production in the first place. It would be nice if something less pressing than today's headlines could wake a studio's ever-slumbering sense of morality and appropriateness, but we all know that's not going to happen.

After a prelude that gives a taste of the bad guys' modus operandi, "Trapped" introduces us to perfect couple Karen and Will Jennings. She (Theron) is an up-and-coming textile designer and mother of irresistible 8-year-old Abby ("I Am Sam's" Dakota Fanning) while he (Irish actor Stuart Townsend) is a handsome doctor who's just invented a lucrative wonder drug.

Into these lives comes a trio of kidnappers, each of whom focuses on one family member. The hulking Marvin (an effective Pruitt Taylor Vince) gets to baby-sit the little girl, the blowsy Cheryl (Courtney Love) is assigned to vamp Will, conveniently out of town at a medical convention, while mastermind Joe (Bacon) gets wife detail.

This is fine by him because Joe considers himself something of a mind-games expert. Using a nervy charisma and pop-psychology lines like "I'm going to help you through this thing" and "I give parents the power to keep them alive," he feels more than able to manipulate any woman any way he wants.

This kind of smug and nasty manipulator is ready-made for Bacon to play, and he makes the most of the opportunity. The actor's clearly the most accomplished of the four leads and it's a shame you'd have to endure this film to experience his performance.

Making the film even more unpleasant than its severely asthmatic-child-in-constant-danger-of-death plot would indicate is a smarmy subplot that involves the kidnapper's constant attempts to seduce the wife as a way for her to ensure the child's safety.

Needless to say, as Joe eventually discovers, Karen is "not like the other moms," and this would-be perfect crime hits any number of speed bumps. In fact, the Jenningses are so intrepid that Sony apparently considers "Trapped" to be an empowerment movie. Sitting though endless misogynistic torture scenes to witness a few brief moments of revenge is no sane person's idea of empowerment, parental or otherwise.

MPAA rating: R, for violence, language, sexual content. Times guidelines: wall to wall with unsavory situations.


Charlize Theron...Karen
Courtney Love...Cheryl
Stuart Townsend...Will
Kevin Bacon...Joe
Pruitt Taylor Vince...Marvin
Dakota Fanning...Abby

Columbia Pictures presents, in association with Senator Entertainment and the Canton Co., a Mandolin Entertainment/Propaganda Films production, released by Sony Pictures. Director Luis Mandoki. Producers Mimi Polk Gitlin, Luis Mandoki. Executive producers Mark Canton, Hanno Huth, Neil Canton, Glen Ballard, Rich Hess. Screenplay Greg Iles, based on the novel "24 Hours" by Greg Iles. Cinematographers Frederick Elmes, Piotr Sobocinski. Editor Jerry Greenberg. Costumes Michael Kaplan. Music John Ottman. Production design Richard Sylbert. Art director William Heslup. Set decorator Rose Marie McSherry. Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes.

In general release.

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