The women get all the juicy action in Traffik, a cheesy, by-the-numbers action melodrama that takes itself seriously enough to pose as an exposé of sex trafficking. An attractive cast led by a vibrant, all-in Paula Patton and spiffy visuals courtesy of renowned cinematographer Dante Spinotti make the sleaze and predictable plotting go down a bit easier than they would have otherwise, but there’s still no disguising the project’s fundamentally lurid underpinnings. The Codeblack/Lionsgate offering doesn’t look to last long in theaters.
It’s fundamentally Patton’s show, as she somehow manages to keep her head above water and preserve her dignity and grit as Brea, a young woman whose expectations of a romantic weekend with her lover John (Omar Epps) are turned upside-down by a bunch of sleazebags who presume to invite themselves to the gorgeous remote house in the woods John has scored from his slick lawyer buddy Darren (Laz Alonso).
After John and Brea, who are black, have an altercation with some scuzzy white bikers at a gas station, you know it’s only a matter of time until the bad ol‘ boys turn up to give the city folk a very bad time, indeed. But while we’re waiting, writer-director Deon Taylor (Supremacy, Meet the Blacks) indulges in some scenic swimming pool hanky-panky that serves to put Brea in just the right mood, which is broken when the impulsive Darren annoys John to no end by showing up unannounced with his lady friend Malia (Roselyn Sanchez) just as John prepares to pop the question.
But Darren is more than welcome compared to the visitors who turn up next. First comes a sketchy gal (Dawn Olivieri) with whom Brea had a weird encounter at the gas stop and whose phone full of photos of abused and unhappy-looking women Brea unaccountably finds in her possession. And not far behind are the bad boys, whose leader (Luke Goss) predictably initiates a slaughter that eventually takes down a fair percentage of the cast.
It’s cat-and-mouse through the woods at night for a while, as a panicked Brea scurries through the underbrush to get to safety. But then things get worse thanks to a hard-ass chief of local police (Missi Pyle in a delectably malevolent turn) who’s got a lot more going on in her life and career than her official uniform suggests.
Even when presenting a veritable hell on Earth, where Brea eventually does arrive, Taylor and Spinotti make it look snazzy. But while Patton almost single-handedly makes you want to take the film a little more seriously than is in any way warranted, it’s impossible to do so on any level, so fundamentally based is it in stock characters, hackneyed suspense cliches and predictable notes reliably struck. The canned-sounding electronic score doesn’t help much either.
Fundamentally, this is both a female empowerment yarn and a victimization tale wrapped up in one less than convincing package. The game and energetic Patton makes it for the most part watchable, but she can’t make you take any of it seriously.
A Codeblack, Lionsgate production
Cast: Paula Patton, Omar Epps, Laz Alonso, Roselyn Sanchez, Dawn Olivieri, Luke Goss, Missi Pyle, William Fichtner
Director: Deon Taylor
Screenwriter: Deon Taylor
Producers: Roxanne Aventi, Deon Taylor, Paula Patton
Director of photography: Dante Spinotti
Production designer: John Richoux
Costume designer: Adrene Ashford
Editor: Melissa Kent
Music: Geoff Zanelli
Casting: Kimberly Hardin, Billy Murphy
R rating, 97 minutes