Review of “Trapped”

Trapped, a TV movie from here! Films now available on DVD, manages to somehow roll every possible cliché of the thriller genre into one 80-minute film, right down to the cheesy music and stereotypical characters. Though the movie is refreshing in its portrayal of a healthy, stable lesbian relationship, the rest of the characters are straight out of a how-to guide for writing bland, predictable TV movies.

The film starts out with computer security expert Samantha (Alexandra Paul, formerly of Baywatch) and her girlfriend Dana (out actress Michelle Wolff) sharing a morning kiss and cup of coffee. It’s all very sweet and domestic, and we learn that the two women work together and that Sam’s taking her teenage daughter Gwen off to a ritzy spa for her birthday.

But the film wastes no time getting Sam and Gwen kidnapped by a few vaguely Eastern European thugs (complete with comical accents) and held captive in a run-down hotel complex. Sam is subsequently forced to hack into the FBI’s files within 90 minutes — or else her daughter will be killed.

The situation is tense, if a bit contrived. The strict 90-minute limit (due to the half-charged laptop battery) and the effect of actually seeing Gwen in distress (tied down to a bed elsewhere in the hijacked hotel) makes Sam’s tension palpable and her reactions believable.

Of course, there is the requisite subplot explaining what the thugs are after (besides Gwen) involving the witness-protection program and a few innocent lives in the balance, specifically another mother-daughter couple. But the film never explains exactly what any of the bad guys want; we can only guess they are a trio of hired guns led by Adrien (Dennis Christopher), a perpetually smoking, evil Bill Gates look-alike.

All in all, it’s not a terrible premise, and aside from the so-bad-they’re-hilarious villains, there are some close calls and fairly thrilling moments. Gwen is a remarkably versatile 16-year-old who hotwires a phone and escapes her bonds (and her room) twice, setting up the most exciting cat-and-mouse chases in the movie. Likewise, Sam encounters a few close calls in her hacking, sending out secret messages and keeping the thugs on their toes.

However, the fun basically stops when we’re introduced to unbearably stereotypical characters four and five, the intrepid rookie cop and apathetic sheriff, respectively. What’s even more inexplicable than the thugs’ place of origin is the accent of the intrepid rookie: He sounds as if he’s straight out of Boston, despite the California setting of the film.

This leads into one of the true great mysteries of the movie: What’s up with the accents? Trapped has some kind of weird obsession with hokey accents, and unless the director (Rex Piano) is attempting to make some kind of commentary about multiculturalism, it’s pretty inexplicable. And frankly, it’s also quite funny.

The film is most enjoyable when it dives into this kind of self-parody territory. Despite its few moments of glory, it never rises above a paint-by-numbers TV movie. Truly, it would’ve been more successful if they took the comic value of the villains and ran with it, creating a self-aware satire instead of a mediocre movie of the week. Adrien’s over-the-top antics in particular are so bad that one wonders why he wasn’t given a mustache to twirl menacingly as he blows smoke into the phone receiver, spouting lines such as "We do what we must, then call it what sounds best."

The only thing that sets Trapped apart is the fact that it stars a lesbian couple at the center of the action — and that their sexuality is a nonissue. Most movies on this tier (low-budget TV fare) tend to either sensationalize or grossly oversimplify the lesbian characters (when they are even a part of the story at all), so it is nice to see that Samantha and Dana are fully accepted by Gwen and are just generally presented as a normal couple.

In fact, since most of the characters are so stereotypical, negative reactions toward the couple might even be expected, but they are happily absent. In one instance, as Gwen has a bout of adolescent pouting (pre-kidnapping, on the way to the spa), Sam suspects she’s having a hard time dealing with her mom’s sexuality. Gwen simply replies: "This has nothing to do with Dana and you. You’re gay, so what? I’ve got lots of gay friends. It’s no big deal." Similarly, even the otherwise bumbling, straight male cops don’t react at all when Dana clearly states that it’s her girlfriend, not just a co-worker, who has gone missing.

The acting, however, is quite spotty — even without taking Adrien and company into consideration. Alexandra Paul generally does a good job of keeping Sam’s predicament real, and her relationship with Gwen is believable. Also worth mentioning is Michelle Wolff (Mango Kiss) as Dana. Though it’s a smaller role, she’s authentic in it, and the chemistry between her and Paul is convincing despite the grand total of five minutes they spend together in the film. But everyone else is playing a stereotype, and more often than not, playing it poorly.

The camera work is competent, shining above the music and mostly B-grade acting. There is even a bit of simplistic, but reasonably effective, contrast. Since the majority of the film takes place inside a dingy hotel, the outdoor scenes are bright and wide open, evoking the ocean and sunny beaches of the California coast. It’s not exactly groundbreaking, but it does the job of making the indoor scenes that much more claustrophobic and tense.

All in all, Trapped is standard low-budget lesbian movie fare. It offers some cheap thrills, terrible accents and a pretty setting, but not much else. It’s not a terrible film by any means, and it does feature a decent lesbian story line, but the blandness of the other characters and the predictability of the action drags it down. Anyone looking for a competent thriller starring a lesbian couple would be better off watching Bound a few more times.

Trapped is available on DVD on March 20, 2007.

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