Kidnap thriller "Trapped" belongs in the class of manipulative suspense films shared by B-graders "Double Jeopardy," "Enough" and "The Juror."
What sets "Trapped" apart is timing, since its release coincides with a rash of child abductions given heightened attention by the media. "Trapped," which revolves around serial kidnappers (Kevin Bacon and Courtney Love) abducting the daughter of a prominent doctor (Stuart Townsend) and his wife (Charlize Theron), comes on the heels of a jury's recommendation that David Westerfield face the death sentence for the murder of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam.
Instead of shelving the film, Columbia Studios scaled back promotions for the movie, changing ad campaigns to de-emphasize the abduction element, instead attempting to sell it as a "parent-empowerment movie." Advance screenings for movie critics were canceled and the stars were asked not to do publicity for the film. In fact, "Trapped" is not the shoddy kind of film that is usually kept from critics and buried over a weekend. This does not mean that it is high art, either. It remains to be seen whether Columbia's tactics will reflect social sensitivity or the kind of Big Brother posturing that led radio stations to ban such "inappropriate" songs as John Lennon's "Imagine" after 9/11.
The movie itself, while emotionally potent, suffers from reckless, sensational Hollywood values. It's chilling to hear Love threaten Townsend with the prospect of buying "a three-foot coffin." You can keep an audience fretting over the fate of a child almost indefinitely. Until, that is, "Trapped" detours into a James Bond film. Car chases, death-defying airplane stunts, gunplay and explosions clutter up a plot with promise.
Bacon delivers an appropriately slimy performance as kidnapper Joe, and Theron breaks your heart as a mother on the edge. Love, reverting to her trashy early '90s look, feels simultaneously natural and out of place as Bacon's abused accomplice and wife. Only Townsend and Pruitt Taylor Vince are reduced to utilitarian roles as enraged husband and intellectually challenged kidnapping flunky. While the action and drama slip into absurdism occasionally, the ensemble marches through bravely in character.
Although the kidnappers claim to have completed four such child ransoms previously, all without incident, a twist gets piled on an already thickening plot. The doctor and kidnapper share a link, a flimsy gimmick that has never really worked since Darth Vader uttered the words "Luke, I am your father."
Excellent abduction films such as "Breakdown" and the original "The Vanishing" maintain a sense of danger and claustrophobia by keeping the conflicts mostly internal, turning up the temperature under a fluctuating tone of emotional duress. "Trapped" splashes its drama all over the screen, subjecting its audience and characters to action that feels not only manufactured, but also so false you can see the filmmakers' puppet strings.
2 stars (out of 4)
Robert K. Elder is a Tribune staff writer.
Originally published Sept. 20, 2002.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times