2002, PG-13, 99 min. Directed by Luis Mandoki. Starring Dakota Fanning, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Stuart Townsend, Courtney Love, Kevin Bacon, Charlize Theron.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Sept. 27, 2002

Not as disastrous as the promotional campaign or early buzz would suggest, but still ill-advised from most every angle, Trapped is a messily plotted, spottily engaging thriller. Really it doesn't so much thrill as egg the audience closer and closer to an anxiety attack, owing to the choppy-waters camerawork and the innately nail-biting premise of a child in peril (taken from the novel 24 Hours by Greg Iles, who also wrote the colorless screenplay). After a workmanlike intro to the idyllic Jennings family -- textile designer and mom Karen (Theron), doctor dad Will (Townsend), and 6-year-old Abby -- the camera angrily jerks to the distraught face of Karen, who has just learned that Abby's been abducted. The gleeful bearer of the bad news is professional kidnapper Joe (Bacon, sporting a Jack Nicholson knockoff grin). He explains the three-way hostage situation, a scheme finely orchestrated to net him a quarter of a million by sun-up: Joe's cousin, Marvin (Vince), holds Abby hostage at a remote forest cabin; Joe's barely hinged wife Cheryl (Love) has Will at gunpoint in a Seattle hotel room; and Joe's in charge of Karen for the 24 hours it will take for the kidnapping to wrap successfully. The trio of captors call each other every half an hour to update (conveniently allowing the captives to listen in and plot various counterattacks). Raising the stakes even further is Joe's instruction to Marvin, a giant cuddly bear fiercely devoted to his cousin, that, should Marvin fail to hear from Joe every 30 minutes on the nose, he should then kill Abby and hightail it out of there. Joe and his family of nabbers have done this before -- four times, to be exact -- but that sick glint in Joe's eyes suggests that maybe this particular gig is personal. There are minor plot twists throughout, none terribly shocking, but helmer Mandoki (Message in a Bottle) effects a constant state of agitation that begs for a bottle of Paxil post-viewing. In that sense, Trapped is effective, but, again, its exploitative premise does all the heavy lifting. The slicing of the drama into intercutting set-pieces is a good idea, but it's marred by uneven screentime and uneven acting. I Am Sam's little wunderkind Fanning and solid character actor Vince hit the mark most assuredly (they also get the shortest shrift in minutes onscreen), while Dublin native Townsend is nice on the eyes, nice on the ears, and not much else, and Love is simply miscast. The heft of the film concentrates on the cat-and-mouse game between Bacon and Theron (as well as the disturbing sexual push & pull between the two). Theron is fine, all luscious and trembly, and Trapped will fit comfortably on her résumé (Mighty Joe Young, Sweet November) as one more misstep in a career evidently bent on bucking the breakout status that once seemed like a forgone conclusion for the actress.

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Trapped, Luis Mandoki, Dakota Fanning, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Stuart Townsend, Courtney Love, Kevin Bacon, Charlize Theron

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