Writer/director/co-producer Deon Taylor (“Meet the Blacks”) oversees Traffik, a disposable mystery-suspense project with all the anticipation and edginess of sitting in traffic on the inner loop of I-495 West outside Washington D.C. His pseudo-tense thriller incorporates all the clichéd conventions imaginable: Pretty people in peril, normally smart people doing dumb things, remote romantic getaway shot to hell, exaggerated bad-guys and a host of other trivial tropes too many to mention. The result is a watered-down, exploitative spectacle.
The main jam to Traffik — if you will — rests on the flimsy film’s lazy-eyed script, transparent direction and staged cheap thrills that would not plant goosebumps on a life-long coward in the confines of a dark closet. Routinely, the conjured shocks (which are haphazardly strung together) are telegraphed from miles away, although one cannot deny the occasional flashiness of the well-shot fight scene and kinetic chase. The cinematography also aptly captures the robust rustic scenery which offsets the generous close-ups of star/co-producer Paula Patton’s impressive physical dimensions. But if that is the main draw, there are better options available.
Patton (“Warcraft”) plays Brea, a newspaper journalist who is having a tough time concentrating on completing her work assignments. Brea’s lack of focus gives her boss Mr. Waynewright (William Fichtner, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”) no choice but to release her from future Sacramento Post investigative duties. However, Brea does have something to look forward to: Her considerate mechanic boyfriend, John (Omar Epps, “Shooter” TV series), decides to surprise her with a cozy trip to the northern California mountains for a romantic rendezvous.
Soon, the perfunctory connect-the-dots plotline unfolds as Brea and John get situated in the middle of the concocted chaos. First, a brief visit to the gas station results in strange-minded happenstance. Poor John is having car trouble with Brea’s rebuilt 1969 Chevelle, but is also preoccupied with a bunch of bikers giving him a hard time at the pumps. Meanwhile, Brea has a head-scratching run-in with an emaciated girl named Cara (Dawn Olivieri, “Bright”) in the gas station bathroom. Turmoil, as one should expect, is right around the corner for the photogenic couple.
Anyways, the purpose of the mountainous retreat is so John can pop the marriage question to Brea. Of course this plan becomes a bit complicated when his obnoxious sports agent buddy Darren (Laz Alonso, “Detroit”) and his lovely tag-a-long companion Malia (Roselyn Sanchez, “Act of Valor”) pay them a surprise visit and decide to spoil their intimate union. So the two couples spend some quality time together until the messy reminders from earlier in the day come back to pay them a social call. Originally, John and Brea had Deputy Sally Marnes (Missi Pyle, “Captain Fantastic”) to deal with the troublesome biker gang, but now they, with a disheveled Cara in tow, are back to wreak havoc on our harried lovebirds.
It turns out . . . wait for it . . . those rough riders — led by an intimidating, bald headed British bloke called Red (Luke Goss, “Hellboy II: The Golden Army”) — are knee-deep in human trafficking. The nefarious Red’s sex trade operation is at risk because Brea has in her possession an incriminating phone that has on it some major secrets that could put a lot of important people behind bars. How this plays out shouldn’t surprise — or thrill — anyone.
The biggest failure of Traffik, however, is how clumsily it tackles the subject of human trafficking and sexual slavery. The film’s commentary strives to condemn the selling of women in the dark, underground crevices of the disturbed, yet Taylor’s camera hovers over both Patton’s and Sanchez’s desirable “assets” like a horny gray cloud waiting to produce excitable rain. Perhaps undermining the messaging of women as property by showcasing a bikini-clad Patton in amorous scenes was not intentional, but nonetheless it hurts the cause considerably.
Patton and Epps do their best to try to sell the strained suspense, but the unflinching depiction of the subject matter never soundly materializes forcing the ineffectual melodramatic malaise. The seriousness is unwisely sacrificed and the cast of supporting characters serve as pawns to simply set the stage for another humdrum, knee-jerk actioner. Traffic is indeed preferred to Traffik.