A global scourge gets the schlock-buffet treatment in "Trafficked," a thriller about sex slaves no less junky because it includes grim statistics as text at the end, and was written by human trafficking activist Siddharth Kara. Movies can warp any urgent issue into disposable melodrama, and what's cringe-worthy about "Trafficked," directed by Will Wallace, is how unnecessarily eroticized it is, like something from the made-for-video bin in a '90s-era Blockbuster. The story introduces three young women swiped from various corners of the planet — orphaned Sara (Kelly Washington) from an American group home, Indian Amba (Alpa Banker), who spurred a vengeful suitor, and Nigerian Mali (Jessica Obilom) — whose fates converge at a Texas brothel run by a politely mean cowboy type (Sean Patrick Flanery) in cahoots with a local politician (Patrick Duffy).
Wallace's lurid direction fuses harrowing moments of rape, punishment and murder with sexualized lighting and mustache-twirling performances without ever proving insightful about how this system operates in the real world outside its resemblance to a grindhouse movie. One kick is longtime trafficking activist Ashley Judd in the role of a two-faced social worker surreptitiously feeding girls into the slave system. Considering recent abuse-scandal headlines made so in part through Judd's own bravery in speaking up, one imagines she had plenty to draw on to play someone who pretends outwardly to help while really harboring a secret, nefarious agenda.
Rating: R for disturbing violent content including sexual assaults, language and some drug use
Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center