Certainly not the Steven Soderbergh version. In a news world where quick-bite headlines and speedy output is what matters in the business, journalist Brea (Paula Patton) doesn’t fit in. She’s more interested in being thorough and getting to the heart of a story, which doesn’t jibe with her boss (William Fichtner). Her job is likely lost, and stress is high, all happening on her birthday, no less. But that’s no matter to the love of her life in John (Omar Epps), who plans to take her away on a weekend getaway to a posh spot in the California mountains, and potentially pop the question of all questions.
On the way, the lovebirds run into an uncomfortable situation with bikers and a female who seems to be subtly crying out for help (Dawn Olivieri). The situation turns physical before the couple finally makes their way to their location…only to find out that they somehow have something that belongs to the bikers in a satellite phone. They, along with their friends and fellow couple Malia (Roselyn Sanchez) and Darren (Laz Alonzo) have been followed, and this group will stop at nothing to get it back. Their business depends on it.
There’s little subtlety in Traffik. Though not definite, the misspelled title can probably be inferred as a double-entendre to both its subject matter of human trafficking as well as racism (stare hard enough and I’m pretty sure I saw the “K” flash three times in the title sequence) in a 21st century Trump world. What’s presented in Traffik seems to want to hit on some, “based on actual events” serious matters, but what’s found is a thriller that features a few entertaining sections done in by bumpy execution and even bumpier cast work.
Wearing two hats is director/writer Deon Taylor. The man does not possess the most impressive filmography, but he proves to be capable of creating some compelling, semi-unnerving, thrill sequences and solid atmosphere, aided by Oscar-nominated cinematographer Dante Spinotti, and a score credited to composer Geoff Zanelli adds to the proceedings. A brief third act set-piece is the standout, and it is easy to see Taylor becoming a steady hand of horror (especially with the occasional, 70/80’s style smash cut handheld editing) if he ever does something that isn’t Chain Letter or Meet the Blacks.
His writing is another story. The general premise of Traffik takes your standard setup of a party of people isolated from most of society having to defend themselves against intruders to survive. Albeit unimaginative, this is OK. But where Taylor’s script stumbles are in its aforementioned lack of subtlety, an extremely telegraphed twist early on, and just simple matters like transitions. The core is substantially heavy and nothing to joke about, which makes it all the more jarring when one scene of menace or terror will quickly become a scene of frivolity or body ogling five minutes later. Additionally, random tidbits of character information manifest themselves in a span of five minutes that have no significant bearing on the story whatsoever.
Despite all of this, a person could watch Traffik and see it being OK with a stronger effort from its cast, namely, its stars. Unfortunately, much of their efforts are Razzie-level quality. Out of the four, Mike Epps is perfectly steady. Roselyn Sanchez, forgettable. The two biggest offenders are Laz Alonzo and lead Paula Patton. Alonzo’s character attempts to serve as a comedic smart-ass in the film, failing miserably in this role and entirely unconvincing when asked to deliver substance. Same can be said for Patton, tasked with more moments of emotional substance and often carrying a similar, pained facial expression in all of them. Finally, there’s the stereotypical grunge biker gang who could be played by anyone off of the street, and Missi Pyle, extremely miscast as a small-town sheriff trying to uphold order.
So, what’s Traffik like? Similar to that midday ride home after work that will occasionally tease the driver into thinking they’ll be home earlier than anticipated with a smoother drive, only to run into bumper-to-bumper traffic and consistent red lights.
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