Trapped (2002)

Luis Mandoki introduces his director’s commentary for the DVD of Trapped by explaining the “different look” of its opening scene. Kevin Bacon’s villain, Joe, sits in a car with his victim, a mother desperate to recover her child from his kidnap plot; together, they’re swathed in eerie blue light, to designate a time before the film’s action begins, a past that establishes Joe’s cold cruelty.

The dodgy, increasingly hysterical Trapped moves on to a present time from here, and Mandoki walks you through most every scene, elucidating the “uncertain” moves of the camera that “create a tension,” that a handheld camera allows the actors “freedom” on the set, and the director and editor freedom to make choices in the editing room. In other words, stating the obvious.

Joe is married to Cheryl (Courtney Love, who is by turns effectively creepy, even more effectively abused and abusive, and unnervingly mushy). Their target for the moment is the adorable Abby (Dakota Fanning, equally adorable in I Am Sam). Joe and Cheryl reveal their weaknesses from jump, and you know that the tensions between them 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.

The DVD makes the film’s failings both more and less obvious. More if you watch it straight through, less if you listen to either Mandoki’s comments or those of the writer, novelist Greg Iles (who notes the film’s similarity to Panic Room, and their decision to give their child victim asthma rather than diabetes to mark their innovation, and thanks Don Roos for cutting 20 pages from his 140-page script). Their sense of the film is that it evokes conflict, anxiety, and claustrophobia. Their observations suggest their thought processes, and some reasons for their decisions.