It is no wonder that Hollywood thrillers have converged on the story form of home invasions like a pack of piranhas, and that out of these churning waters, scores of films capitalizing on this common fear have been produced in myriad levels of quality.
Thanks to movies like The Purge and The Strangers, home invasion has become a veritable subgenre for audiences to watch in the supposed safety of their own homes. Still, there are risks involved for filmgoers, as they are exposed to movies that are “based on a true story,” which are mundane attempts at spooking viewers with the same bag of tricks that never worked in the first place.
Traffik, written, directed and misspelled by Deon Taylor, is more of the same fodder that has bored audiences since time immemorial, but now it includes current themes such as human trafficking and casual cocaine use. It is a film that stumbles at every moment on its way toward a forgettable DVD shelf life.
Brea, played by Paula Patton, is a reporter for a nondescript Sacramento, California, newspaper and her upcoming story on domestic corruption has just been “scooped” by a less-talented journalist.
An argument ensues between Brea and her boss as Brea’s prospects of keeping her job are put on the line, completely ruining her birthday, which she dejectedly celebrates later that night with her boyfriend and dysfunctional group of friends.
Understanding that within the first 35 minutes of screen time the ominous doorbell must ring to maintain some semblance of cinematic tension, Taylor clears most of the expositional hurdles by giving most of the lines to the egocentric and hotheaded Darren Cole, played by Laz Alonso.
Aside from being as subtle as a foghorn, Darren promises that the estate John — Brea’s longtime boyfriend, played by Omar Epps — plans to whisk Brea away to will be the perfect remedy for their fear of commitment.
But of course, audiences are not paying top dollar to watch a romantic comedy; cue the human trafficking. In this case, the traffickers are a gang of bikers who have been preying on women and grooming them as sex slaves.
This is where shock value ultimately fails to overshadow Taylor’s lack of imagination. The bikers may be cruel, dirty-leather-jacket-wearing degenerates with matching gauntlets, but it is impossible to tell them apart outside of who has the greasiest hair. There is no effort at characterization beyond first impressions, so the gang is depicted as simply a pack of wolves out for blood.
The leader of the group, known only as Red and played by Luke Goss, is a man of few words who manages to say just enough to incriminate the “multi-billion-dollar operation” that his hapless crew has been running.
Red is a prime example of what a bad echo can do to a movie that already sounds like a broken record: outside of riffing Traffik for its clichés, the film quickly becomes unwatchable.
What is even more disappointing about the plot is how the conflict initiates. After some messy blue slushie action at a local gas station, Brea encounters the battered Cara, played by Dawn Olivieri, in the women’s bathroom, who plants a cellphone in the reporter’s bag.
There are enough plot holes to drain a Jacuzzi in this scene alone because Cara’s relationship with the gang remains ambiguous and short-lived. It is utterly absurd that a cellphone used to pimp women would have a six-digit code related to America’s Independence Day when all of its data is heavily encrypted, but this phone is what the entire crux of Taylor’s plot hinges on.
Worse still, starting from the moment the base of operations — a mobile truck — for the gangsters is left idling outside of the isolated estate, Brea quickly devolves into a boring character. She is saved from expendability solely because she is the protagonist. Her actions are an affront to common sense. And the tension becomes outright laughable once Patton’s method for acting terrified is unveiled: a patented combination of dry heaving mixed with the hysteria of stubbing a toe.
It is difficult to recall any other film in which an audience could be expected to root so vehemently against its heroine.
Redeeming moments are few and far in between. There is a five-second segue from dusk to dawn that captures a truly beautiful and vibrant sunset. The sound effects for John’s automobile are powerful and can test the limits of any theater’s surround sound systems. It is touching to think that someone could actually look forward to arriving at a gas station.
As the final coup de grâce before the end credits roll, a pair of statistics remind the audience of how many millions of women have been abducted and sold through sex-trafficking networks. By now, these facts fall upon deaf ears, however — not because the audience can be unsympathetic to their plight, but because if Traffik intended to promote awareness, it did a tactless job in doing so.
Regrettably, this was a film better left in transit. Traffik reeks of a cash-in mentality. It is a lackluster thriller that hides behind the cliché hallmarks of R-rated films — gratuitous soft-core pornography over R&B; derelict cars that do not start and even the token betrayal by law enforcement — to pad out its meager run time of just 96 minutes.