PARK CITY -- Based on a horrific expose of an international sex slave network, "Trade" is an earnest attempt to dramatize the network of Internet sex "tunnels." Unfortunately, the film's horrific and important subject matter is distilled into a lackluster lump of generic buddy-movie/road-picture components. "Trade" certainly will incite early boxoffice based on its provocative subject matter, but this humdrum film does little justice to the young girls who are prey to these bands of international slime.

Plotting along from the squalor of Mexico City, where brigands capture girls for delivery to New Jersey where they will be auctioned off on an Internet site, "Trade" lumbers along a plot course that, basically, explicates what a good documentary filmmaker could do in half the time and with considerably more of an emotional wallop.

The narrative centers on the cruel abduction of a Polish girl (Alicja Bachleda)and a 13-year-old Mexican girl (Paulina Gaitan) whose combative brother, Jorge (Cesar Ramos), sets off on a trans-America trail to find his younger sister. Careening into the U.S., Jorge runs smack dab into a U.S. lawman, Ray (Kevin Kline), who is on some sort of "insurance" case. Further down the road a piece, we learn Ray is an emotionally wounded cop on a personal mission.

While Kline bravely undertakes the role of lawman with a vendetta, walking as stiff as Dirty Harry and emoting as minimally as Chuck Norris, he never gets a handle on the role. Bathetic phone calls to his wife about their cat convince Jorge that he's dealing with a candy-ass gringo. At this juncture, "Trade" careens into battling-buddy territory as the macho Jorge and the stoic lawman trade barbs, complain about the other's music and eventually bond.

Unfortunately, screenwriter Jose Rivera's banter and dialogue is as leaden as his drab expositional structuring. The dialogue is so uninspired it's as if listening to someone reading subtitles. Similarly, Marco Kreuzpaintner's slow-footed direction never puts the pedal to the metal; in essence, this "important" road picture/chase/buddy movie is devoid of visual accelerants. It is further slowed by editor Hansjorg Weissbrich's tentative braking -- car driving and other padding consistently defuse the story line.

The musical score by Jacobo Lieberman and Leonardo Heiblum is in sync with the film's overall lackluster aesthetics: The music is dreary and listless, more apt as a midwinter Scandinavian overture to the tundra than a torrid expose of international sex slavery.

On the plus side, Ramos' charismatic and charged portrayal of the avenging brother is the film's highlight: Ramos packs energy and fire, combustions that this subject matter deserves. Plaudits also to Gaitan as the waifish Mexican girl who endures unspeakable degradations, as well as Bachleda for her sympathetic and steely performance as the abducted Polish beauty.

Unfortunately, Ray's cat cannot overcome the filmmaker's sloppy cutesiness, and we're left with a final, comic fillip that seems writ from "Walker, Texas Ranger."

A Centropolis Entertainment and VIP Medienfonds 4 production
Producers: Roland Emmerich, Rosilyn Heller
Director: Marco Kreuzpaintner
Screenwriter: Jose Rivera
Story: Peter Landesman, Jose Rivera
Based on the New York Times Magazine article "The Girls Next Door" by: Peter Landesman
Executive producers: Ashok Amritraj, Robert Leger, Tom Ortenberg, Michael Wimer, Nick Hamson, Peter Landesman, Lars Sylvest
Director of photography: Daniel Gottschalk
Production designer: Bernt Capra
Editor: Hansjorg Weissbrich
Music: Jacobo Lieberman, Leonardo Heiblum
Costume designer: Carol Oditz
Ray: Kevin Kline
Jorge: Cesar Ramos
Veronica: Alicja Bachleda
Adriana: Paulina Gaitan
Manuelo: Marco Perez
Laura: Kate del Castillo
Hank Jefferson: Tim Reid
Vadim Youchenko: Pasha Lynchnikoff
Running time -- 120 minutes
MPAA rating: R