Blu-ray Review: Traffik (2018)

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With her beaming smile and laid back style, Paula Patton has brightened up countless films over the years as a reliable ensemble player. Whether wielding her charm like a weapon in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, bringing out her inner diva in Just Wright, or helping to ensure that Swing Vote didn't take itself too seriously by marrying relationship and political comedy, Patton's been long overdue for not only a lead role but a good one. Needless to say, it's easy to see why she's turned to producing to start generating her own material.

Moving into more serious territory in her second feature film as a double hyphenate following Bille Woodruff's 2016 romantic comedy The Perfect Match, producer and star Patton stars as Brea in writer/director Deon Taylor's sex-trafficking thriller, Traffik.

A journalist at a personal and professional crossroads, while on a romantic weekend getaway with her boyfriend John (Omar Epps), Brea is literally handed the investigative story of a lifetime after a young woman drops her captor's satellite phone in her bag.

Ringing out in the night just as the movie had started to stall following the arrival of the couple's annoying friends (played by Laz Alonso and Roselyn Sanchez), rather than use this terrific hook and Hitchcockian MacGuffin in one to help get the film back on track, Traffik puts it in neutral, opting instead to take the easy way out.

Surrounded by the same motorcycle gang that Brea and John had already had a run in with earlier in the movie, in stark contrast to the film's tagline of “Refuse To Be A Victim,” the film quickly loses its senses, ultimately turning its bland characters into veritable horror movie prey for the next two acts as they try to run, hide, fight, and get help.

Using her looks first as visual eye candy and then later as the subject of a predatory male gaze, although Patton tries her best to transcend yet another one-dimensional role, Taylor gives in far too quickly. By placing her character in increasing levels of jeopardy to try and hold the audience's interest for more than a single scene, Taylor seemingly forgets the crusading journalist he’d introduced us to in act one.

An exploitative anti-exploitation picture complete with shocking real-world statistics as well as the vague claim that it was inspired by true events, in spite of its best intentions, Traffik never rises above the combination of Lifetime Original Movie and (thankfully) gore free '80s B-movie horror.

Like a gun we see in the first act that's bound to go off later on, although the classic dream car that Mike built for Brea helps them escape the relentless bikers early on, we can't help but wonder how much better Traffik could've been if it had circled back to the car and turned into a Breakdown, Duel, or even Kidnap style suspenseful road movie.

Similarly, had Patton and Taylor really wanted to create a gritty thriller about the under-reported world of sex-trafficking in the United States (and abroad), they could've followed through on the classic horror movie trope that finds an anonymous woman abducted at the start of the film.

Instead of passing off the phone to strangers, Traffik might have been more genuine had the story been told from the point-of-view of the victim as she tried to get away from her captors or had Patton been able to fight along with her side by side.

Well shot by a man who knows how to use night scenes to his advantage in the form of L.A. Confidential and Heat cinematographer Dante Spinotti, the Italian cameraman tries his best to add some style to the fledgling material and ratchets up the intensity to the nth degree during a key scene co-starring a fierce Missi Pyle.

And while of course you can't review what might have been, because Taylor's movie starts us down so many different paths before ditching them all, it's easy to see the wide variety of stories that could've been told had Traffik ditched the short stops and changed its route in order to truly go the distance with any one of them.

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