TRAFFIK: Poster as Featured

I try to give every movie a fair shake, to find something redeeming in it. If there is a good performance, I want to be sure to call it out even if the rest of the film is poor. If a picture looks great but the actors are wooden, I still want to mention the aesthetic. Every now and then, though, there is a movie that challenges me. A film that forces me to accept that sometimes a movie can be just plain rotten. TRAFFIK is one such movie.

Before you go further, know there will be all kinds of spoilers. I don’t feel TRAFFIK deserves any kind of protection from such things.

TRAFFIK: Foreground, Background
Paula Patton realizes she’s in TRAFFIK while Omar Epps can only watch, helpless, in horror in the background. (Courtesy of CodeBlack Films)

The Idea Behind TRAFFIK

Brea (Paula Patton) is an old fashioned journalist in a world that no longer lets reporters take their time. She has lost in love but has begun to try again with John (Omar Epps) even though he’s more committed to their relationship. Still, when things go from bad to worse at her paper, she accepts John’s invitation for a romantic weekend away. Along the way, they encounter a biker gang who present as racist, but turn out to something far worse. They are human traffickers working with local law enforcement to make money from human misery.

What’s even worse news is that Brea has somehow stumbled her way into accidentally disrupting their enterprise. Isolated in Northern California, she and John must find a way to escape to alert the authorities about the trafficking. If not, they will surely die and the kidnapped girls and women will only have a life of sexual slavery ahead of them.

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Wait. You Saw This On Purpose?

Hey, I’m not the one on trial here, accusatory subhead!

Anyways, on purpose is a strong word.

I wanted to go to the movies, but it was late and TRAFFIK was the only thing playing. The blurb I read made it sound like a “one group menaces another group because the latter group saw or took something they shouldn’t have.” Typical and empty fare, perhaps, but a decent way to pass the time. Alas, that’s not what I got.

As far as the trafficking piece, the blurb mentioned bikers so I figured it was meth or maybe guns. I did not seek this experience out, I assure you.

TRAFFIK: Not what she signed on for
Cara (Dawn Olivieri) plays the only victim with any lines in TRAFFIK. (Courtesy of CodeBlack Films)

Won’t Someone Think of the Journalism?!

Of course, sex trafficking can be the focus of a competent and important movie. In the same way, say, competent and moving films can be made about any number of atrocities. Sex trafficking does not instantly make a movie bad.

With TRAFFIK, however, one finds plenty to dislike before we hit the sex trafficking portion of the plot. Many of those things, retroactively, become even worse when the sex trafficking is revealed.

There are also some moments of undeniable cheese that, in a different movie, would be somewhat enjoyably daffy. The biggest of these moments more or less opens the film. Brea, as noted above, is a reporter with an old-school love of the news. She has opened her morning edition to find the story she had been working on for some time swept out from underneath her by a fellow reporter at her own paper! Incensed, she bursts into the office of the editor, Mr. Waynewright (Willam Fichtner), and proceeds to dress him down.

Her anger is understandable. What comes out of her mouth, however? It would have made everyone connected to last year’s THE POST blush and mumble, “Honestly, it’s just a newspaper story.” The dialogue is so purple, so over the top in its “JOURNALISM IS IMPORTANT NOW MORE THAN EVER” proclamation.

Worse, anyone with a modicum of newspaper knowledge will recognize Brea drowned a scoop in a feature. The editor was not right to leave her in the dark about giving the story to someone else. But he sure did need to take it away from her. You don’t hold onto breaking a story about governmental corruption to give readers a history lesson about corruption since 1900.

Also, that’s just straight research. What was taking so long?

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Where’s the Chemistry?

There is none.

Well, that’s not true. Brea has loads of chemistry with Red (Luke Goss) when they run into each other in a convenience store. However, he turns out to be one of the head baddies. Worse, he later whispers to her, while she is handcuffed and seemingly unconscious, “I’m keeping you for myself.” Viola! That chemistry just became hella gross.

TRAFFIK: Sexualization and racial politics, please
Omar Epps and Paula Patton mix it up with some bikers. This was honestly the only image I could find to sort of demonstrate how TRAFFIK sexualizes Patton without playing into the same behavior. Just imagine that dress being shot from an overhead angle and you get the idea. (Courtesy of CodeBlack Films)

How About That Male Gaze?

So Paula Patton is attractive. I note this because the movie REALLY wants to make sure you note it. From a slow pan across her body in bed wearing a thong jump suit, to a dress that she increasingly is spilling out of and shot from a high angle in, to a dip in a pool in a nice matching set of black bra and underwear, this movie takes great pains to show you as much of her as the nudity clause in her contract will allow.

In and of itself, this might be annoying or frustrating, especially given how little time is spent on sexualizing Epps. His one shirtless scene is shot in a matter-of-fact way and with him in a fairly benign pose that in no way shows us what he’s got going on.

However, this is a movie that, as noted, will later be about the buying and selling of women’s bodies. Where these women will be depicted in similar poses as the camera shows Patton bruised and drugged. It’s as though the movie is saying, “Oh you thought Paula was sexy? Well, guess what? You’re a monster!”

If that was the point, I guess I’d have to give the film a kind of begrudging respect. It would be a sort of FUNNY GAMES for sexualization instead of violence. But I don’t think the movie thought it that far out. It wanted to show us a sexy lady and exploited women and never thought the two were connected.

As a general rule of thumb, don’t spend as long at the beginning of the movie sexualizing your protagonist as you plan to spend at the end of the movie depicting the horrors of human trafficking.

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Let’s Check Back on Journalism, Shall We?

Fans of truly bad movies will no doubt be familiar with Neil Breen. To those who are, let me tell you this gets Breen-y at the end.

If you are not a Breen-head, no worries. All you need to know is that, in his movie FATEFUL FINDINGS, he plays a hacker who is exposing government and corporate secrets that reach the highest corridors of power. The movie renders the moment so enormous that it comes around to being meaningless again. It is SO intense that it becomes ridiculous.

Waynewright discusses Brea’s story on the human trafficking run that she personally busted with the same big of bombast. It would no doubt be an important story in the real world. However, he makes it sound like she has incurred the wrath of everyone on her way to becoming worldwide enemy #1. I guess that could be the case, but something tells me it would the FBI talking to her then, not her boss.

TRAFFIK: Unpleasant man with a gun
Laz Alonso has the unenviable task of playing one of the least likable characters I’ve seen onscreen in some time in TRAFFIK. And we are sort of supposed to root for him! He’s just awful on the page. Sorry sir. (Courtesy of CodeBlack Films)

Striking the Set

If TRAFFIK were overall the cheesy speechifying affair it is at the beginning, it might not have been good but it could have been silly fun.

Or if it went the route the blurb promised, a generic normal people under siege in a wild-looking house, it might have been an easily disposable thriller.

Heck, even if you took the super male gaze-y part of the film and expanded to an hour-and-a -alf, you could roll your eyes and move on.

Instead, what it gave us was this: Wildly discordant in tone, little on-screen chemistry, thin characters, and, worst of all, an attempt to do a message movie about human trafficking in the midst of this whole trashy affair.

It’s gross, has zero self-awareness, and totally fails to bring attention to a serious crime because you are too busy marveling at how one movie could be so wrongheaded.

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