THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Columbia Pictures found itself in a bind recently. After locking in a September 20 release date for their thriller Trapped, real life events hit a little too close to home. The movie - based on the novel "24 Hours" by Greg Iles - is about a trio of kidnappers who snatch a little girl. This past summer saw a series of child kidnappings in the news, some of which regrettably ended with the deaths of the children involved. Faced with the prospect of appearing exploitive, Columbia scaled back its advertising, canceled the press junket and critics screenings, and forbade the stars from promoting the film on the talk-show circuit. When the media got wind of what was going on, the studio assured everyone it was only trying to be sensitive. Certain critics judged the movie before it even came out, saying that Trapped's quiet opening was simply a diversion to hide the fact that it was a turkey. The fact as I see it is that Trapped is not a turkey, but it's also not a very serious film about kidnapping. It has some genuine moments of terror and some good performances. It also has its share of melodrama and an ending that is unspeakably bad - a typical Hollywood action finale devoid of reason or logic. Columbia probably knew their film was disposable and really didn't want it to seem like it was exploiting real tragedies.

Kevin Bacon torments Charlize Theron in Columbia Pictures' controversial thriller Trapped
Charlize Theron plays Karen Jennings. She is married to Will (Stuart Townsend), an anesthesiologist who has developed a new procedure that is about to revolutionize the medical field. Will hops aboard his seaplane to attend a conference at which he will be the guest speaker. Karen stays home with young Abby (Dakota Fanning). Within hours, Abby is kidnapped. One of the kidnappers, Joe (Kevin Bacon), also holds Karen hostage in the house, informing her that his plan will last exactly 24 hours. If she follows all his directions, everyone will still be alive at the end. Meanwhile, Joe's wife Cheryl (Courtney Love) holds Will at gunpoint in his hotel room, giving him similar instructions. Abby is taken to a remote cabin in the woods by the third kidnapper, Marvin (Pruitt Taylor Vince).

The kidnapping has many complications, not the least of which is that Abby is severely asthmatic. Karen demands an unscheduled meeting so Joe can drop off the girl's medication to Marvin. Meanwhile, Will begins to get Cheryl to open up to him; eventually he puts the pieces together and realizes that the kidnapping is about something more than money. Back at the house, Joe essentially terrorizes Karen all night, even going so far as to come on to her sexually. This leads to one of the best scenes in the movie, where Karen turns the tables.

The thing Trapped has going for it is that it's about victims who fight back. Karen, Will, and Abby all try to get the upper hand from their captors at some point. It's refreshing to see a movie where the characters do something other than employ idiot logic. There's another tense scene in which the little girl fools Marvin, then has to make a run for her life. Maybe part of the reason it's so nerve-wracking is that we remember the story of those two teenage girls who fought off their kidnapper this past summer.

Most of the performances are pretty effective as well. Charlize Theron is a terrific actress who hits the right notes of fear turning into determination. Kevin Bacon again delivers solid work as the creepy villain. He makes Joe more than just a generic bad guy; there's real evil in there. Dakota Fanning is only eight years old, but she does such a credible job of being frightened that I forgot she was acting. Perhaps the most intriguing performance comes from Courtney Love. Casting her as a villain was a masterstroke. Her off-screen reputation for being a loose cannon only adds to her portrayal of a dangerous psycho. She's extremely well used in the film.

The weak link is Stuart Townsend (Queen of the Damned), who overacts in every scene. The actor never has a moment that feels real. His scenes tend to degenerate into melodrama. But that's a problem shared by the movie as a whole. There are individual scenes that pack a real punch, but they are usually followed by something pretty heavy-handed or over-the-top. My feelings about for the movie went back and forth from admiration to simple tolerance. In other words, it never really lifted off the way Ron Howard's great kidnapping thriller Ransom did. That picture transcended the formula in a way this one never does.

Then there's that ending, which constitutes fifteen of the most ridiculous, ludicrous, and unintentionally hilarious minutes ever committed to film. I tried to write a description of it, but couldn't find the words. What I can tell you is that it involves a seaplane, a logging truck, and a thirty-car pileup in which not one single person exits their vehicle despite the fact that the main characters are running around beating each other up. It's truly one of the worst things I've ever seen in a movie.

There's not a lot here that's great, but I'd be lying if I said Trapped didn't occasionally work on me at some level. I can't recommend it, but I wish I could. Director Luis Mandoki could have turned this into something good with a little tweaking and a whole new ending. Didn't anyone involved with this movie look at the grand finale and think, "Hey, this sucks?"

( 1/2 out of four)

Trapped is rated R for violence, language and sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.

Return to The Aisle Seat