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Trapped

Director: Luis Mandoki
Cast: Charlize Theron, Kevin Bacon, Stuart Townsend, Courtney Love, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Dakota Fanning

(Columbia Pictures; US theatrical: 8 May 2007; 2002)

Channeling Andie

For 24 hours on the weekend of 21-22 September, Courtney Love “took over” MTV2. While a disclaimer ran periodically under her, stating that the opinions being expressed were hers and hers alone and MTV and MTV2 would own none of it, Courtney ranted and smoked, dressed and undressed, dissed various pop acts, misnamed P. Diddy’s clothing company (“Sean James”), and extolled the virtues of real rock and roll, the kind that she and her friends make.


All of it was strange, but among the strangest occurrences was the interview with poor Molly Ringwald, who, for some inexplicable reason, agreed to sit on a couch with Love. Good sport Ringwald, currently getting good notices for her work on Broadway in Cabaret, tried to bear up under Courtney’s meanderings, chief among them being that she emulated Ringwald during her performance in Trapped: “All that was much more you than me,” said Courtney.


Scary as this sounds—Courtney channeling Claire Standish or Andie Walsh—it might explain a few things about what was going on in Trapped, Luis (Message In a Bottle) Mandoki’s dodgy, increasingly hysterical thriller. Playing a kidnapper named Cheryl Hickey (I’m not kidding), Love is by turns effectively creepy, even more effectively abused and abusive, and unnervingly mushy—this last part, of course, comes near the end, when she realizes the error of her ways and tries to help the kindappee’s parents get her back from her relentlessly evil husband and crime partner, Joe (Kevin Bacon). By that point, however, the film has so insistently run itself off a logical cliff that Love’s erratic performance is the least of its problems.


The fact that Trapped opened cold (without critics’ previews) prompted anticipation of its deficiencies. But an early rumor gave this occurrence a spin, suggesting that the filmmakers and distributors were being “discreet,” since the plot centers on the kidnapping of an adorable child named Abby (Dakota Fanning, equally adorable in I Am Sam). But, much as Collateral Damage is unrelated to 9-11, so Trapped has precious little to do with the past summer’s child abductions and related media frenzy.


To begin with, Joe and Cheryl are not your usual kidnappers—they are movie villains. Their weaknesses are visible from jump, and you know that their internal tensions will do them in. Still, they believe they have a foolproof system; by the time they take cute little Abby, they’ve previously kidnapped four other children, all returned safely to their families, following 24 hours of grief and trauma, and a six-figure payment. Their target is always a wealthy family at a time when the parents are separated for some ordinary reason: Cheryl stays with the husband, Joe’s cousin Marvin (Pruitt Taylor Vince) takes the victim to a cabin in the Eastern Cascades (he’s not the best candidate for this job, for, as he puts it, “I don’t like it when little girls cry!”), and seedy Joe stays with the wife, demanding that she have sex with him in exchange for her child’s life.


Abby’s parents are seemingly ideal targets for this neat, mean scheme: wealthy, renowned anesthesiologist and researcher Will Jennings (Stuart Townsend, who survived Queen of the Damned) and his ex-nurse-now-homemaker wife Karen (Charlize Theron) spend time apart regularly, as he’s called to lecture on his invention, a new type of anesthetic called “Restorase.” He also happens to fly his own seaplane to these engagements, a skill that will, of course, come in mighty handy by the time the plot is winding down to its wholly predictable finale.


This plot commences when the crooks bust into the Jennings’ fabulous Portland, Oregon home: Marvin grabs Abby, Joe stays behind with Karen and a cell phone, which he uses to call his cohorts every 30 minutes—if any one of them does not check in, the kid is toast. Meanwhile, Cheryl assails Will in his hotel room, then takes a call from Joe (this is when she starts complaining, “He’s difficult, he’s not like the other ones”). Reassured by Joe that all is under control, she then insists that Will sit tight until the next morning, when wifey will wire money that he will hand over to Cheryl. (The reason for this extra step of money wiring is vague; it’s probably safe to assume the Hickeys prefer complications to what the rest of us might call straight-ahead experiences.)


Perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn that, despite Joe’s contentions, all is not under control. The reason? The same gimmick that’s been afflicting kids all this movie year—asthma. Somehow, Abby’s know-it-all kidnappers miss this crucial factor, and leave Abby’s puffer behind. Not to worry, though: this crisis is quickly resolved and the film returns to its more prurient concern, with the potential sexual roundelay among the adults.


While it’s hard to assert that the asthma plot would have been more interesting, there’s no doubt that the sex story is wholly ludicrous, and not a little embarrassing for all involved. It’s not bad enough that Cheryl is lolling about the hotel room, half-dressed, knocking back Toblerone chocolate bars, and confessing at last that yes, yes, Joe does beat her silly and really, her kidnapper’s life sucks. She also lets slip that this whole deal is about revenge. Seems Joe believes Will is responsible for his (Joe’s) daughter’s death on the operating table. But that’s just another red herring, because Will can’t be responsible: you (and eventually, Cheryl) need to be able to empathize with his moral rightness.


The far yuckier relationship occurs between Joe and Karen. Pretending to go along with the sex thing, she strips to her black underwear and hides a scalpel in her butt crack. They struggle, and, well, he ends up with his penis slashed. Very bloody, and the means by which Joe’s body’s morphs to a rather inelegant metaphor, that is, castrated male as scourge of society. By the end of Trapped, a protracted 20 minutes later, Joe is looking so pale and blood-deprived that he’s downright cadaverous. Cheryl’s still pretty much the same—babbling about how much she loves Joe but turned around enough by her close encounter with the terminally bland Will that she’s thinking she wants the particulars of her marriage to change. She doesn’t know it’s too late. But you do.

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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PULL.
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