How many bad decisions need to be made, both accidental and intentional, for you to get caught in a human trafficking operation? Quite a lot actually, and you might need the help of your friends to get there.
The biggest flaw in the film is its overlong setup, taking around 45 minutes to get into the action, an issue given its 96-minute running time. Paula Patton’s Brea is an intrepid and meticulous journalist but one who has a knack for beating around the bush in her work. So when one of her colleagues manages to do a better job with a story she’s writing about, her position at the Sacramento Post is called into question.
Her boyfriend John (Omar Epps) has a romantic getaway planned which hopefully ends with a successful proposal, but when their married friends Darren (Laz Alonso) and Malia (Roselyn Sanchez) crash the party, his opportunity is wasted. Along the way, while John and Brea take her new car to the secluded vacation spot, they run into some bikers and a haggard woman at a gas station. The troubled woman plants her phone in Brea’s handbag, lighting the fire to her investigative tendencies when she discovers the device much later, leading her to uncover a human trafficking operation.
When a film takes around half its running time to reach the actual problem it’s dealing with, well, it’s a problem. The setup is overripe, taking 45 minutes to introduce while digging into four characters and their tangled romantic histories. Traffik only becomes a worthwhile watch when Brea’s sleuth kicks in, and we take quite a while to get there.
For things to go wrong, characters need to make increasingly bad decisions leading to a major calamity. This is where the overripe setup delivers. By spending half the time digging into our two couples and everything right and wrong in their relationships, writer and director Deon Taylor tests everyone when the big baddies come for their missing phone.
Darren, being the sports agent, thinks he can talk his way out of anything, a problem given that he’s coked up and on the verge of a marital breakup. Brea, the seasoned journalist who’s surprisingly naive despite her experience, clammers to call the authorities. John and Malia aren’t the main driving forces here, setting up their significant others to battle over the best course of action. Do we give the traffickers the phone, or hold on to it, call the cops and run as fast as we can?
It’s these bad decisions and the accompanying frustration of watching people make these decisions that engage you. How many of us are guilty of watching videos of epic fails on YouTube? There’s a hidden satisfaction to it, and that’s the case with Traffik, where our characters will face some horrible consequences as a result, and we’re going to witness the trainwreck.
The acting wasn’t a letdown, but it was instead the screenplay letting down the actors. We get an inkling of what’s to come very early on when Brea confronts her editor, played by William Fichtner. Brea’s takedown piece on a local congressman looks at more than one political figure, opting to target corruption as a whole. She tends to see the whole forest as opposed to the trees. She waxes on about Tiberius Gracchus before laying down one cliche after the next. “It’s more than one person.” “We have a moral obligation to tell people the whole story,” all the typical cookie cutter lines put forward by the fourth estate. Fichtner’s character has none of it. Calling her history lessons on Gracchus bullshit. Because of the manner in which she’s written, it’s hard to take Brea seriously as a journalist and this lends credibility to her character’s naivete.
With the lead being let down by the script, there isn’t much for Epps, Alonso, and Sanchez to work with either. Alonso’s character is dynamite, however. His high-wire job and drug habit put him in the wrong state of mind, so he’s bound to deliver incendiary words and incendiary actions, testing the group’s relationships with each other.
Thrills, Twists, and Turns
It’s a classic tale of forcing ordinary people into an abnormal situation, endangering their lives in what was supposed to be a getaway. Instead, they jump from one fire to another, and knowing the kinds of people human traffickers are, and what they’re capable of, it’s hard not to care about the couple’s fate when the villains finally show up. Traffik takes its time getting into the meat of its story, but patient viewers will be rewarded with a run-of-the-mill survival account that sheds light on a truly horrifying trade present in the world to this day.
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