Laudable though their intentions, “Supremacy” writer-director Deon Taylor and star-producer Paula Patton have forged a half-baked abduction opus “Traffik” (* OUT OF ****) about domestic and international sex slavery rings out of a second-rate romantic thriller. Just because a movie tackles a prominent issue of social relevance, such as human trafficking, doesn’t make it appropriate as a dumbed-down melodrama for an evening’s entertainment. Despite some familiar actors and actresses, this 96-minute, R-rated, Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment release is something you can wait for until it shows up on a streaming service for a quarter of the cost of tickets and concession at a theater. The problem with Taylor’s amateurish screenplay is it meanders without purpose when he should have narrowed its focus on the theme and abandoned all other the contrivances that slow everything down. Some characters could have been eliminated from the start as well as many of the complications that together generate one convolution after another. Moreover, Taylor introduces things that raise expectations, and then he dispenses with them as if they lacked significance. If you’ve seen better movies or television shows about human trafficking, such as Steven Soderbergh’s “Traffic” (2000) or the Liam Neeson “Taken” trilogy, you’ll know what to expect long before this earnest, but inept thriller unfolds. One of the biggest “Traffik” flaws is its incoherence. The villains are presented casually without any level of ranking or classification. Never do we learn who is in-charge beyond the foot soldiers who do the abducting. Furthermore, the protagonist is a naïve journalist with little sense of urgency or spontaneity about what constitutes professional journalism. “Traffik” starts out as a romantic thriller and then abruptly shifts gears and turns into a human trafficking expose. The villains seem hopelessly shortsighted and easily conquered, while the heroine reaps the benefits of too many lucky breaks. Sometimes, in a film about an incandescent topic like trafficking, the filmmakers can enhance the impact of the subject matter if they ordain the deaths of the heroes and/or heroines. Consequently, audiences struggle with the bitter taste of defeat that accentuates the magnitude of abolishing this vile business.
Brea (Paula Patton of “Baggage Claim”) is a budding journalist for The Sacramento Postnewspaper. Unfortunately, she finds herself in trouble with her editor, Mr. Waynewright (William Fichtner of “Heat”) when she spends too much time on an assignment. Waynewright reassigns the story to one of her colleagues, and Brea is appropriately incensed by this breach of faith in her. Waynewright delivers a lecture that makes our heroine worry about her future at the paper. Meantime, Brea and her boyfriend, a mechanic named John (Omar Epps of “Dracula 2000”), are about to embark on a quiet weekend alone at a mansion hidden in the Sierra Nevada mountains. What neither of them suspect is that John’s obnoxious, sports agent friend, Darren Cole (Laz Alonso of “Detroit”), who set it up for them to spend time there, plans to surprise them with the arrival of his own girlfriend and himself. Meantime, John is so in love with Brea that he has rebuilt a sports car for her that everybody envies. Before they arrive at their rendezvous, they cruise into a convenience store/gas station, and some thuggish-looking motorcycle gearheads harass them about the car. This scene looks like it was lifted with minor changes from the Keanu Reeves’ automotive revenge thriller “John Wick.” Local Deputy Sally Marnes (Missi Pyle of “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”) intervenes before things turn nasty. She threatens to jail the gearheads if they don’t leave Brea and John alone. At the same time, Brea has an encounter with a strange woman, Cara (Dawn Olivieri of “American Hustle”), in the convenience store restroom. She isn’t entirely certain if the woman wasn’t appealing to her for help. The leader of the biker gang, Red (Luke Goss of “Blade II”), reprimands his men about the incident. They have far more pressing issues than harassing motorists. The biker who spits on Brea’s car, Scoot (Scott Anthony Leet of “Freeway Killer”), cannot leave well enough alone. He pursues them when they leave the convenience store. A brief chase ensues, but John loses the cretin after Scoot crashes his bike and skids off the highway. Once they reach the luxurious estate, Brea and John plunge into the pool and make out. Imagine their surprise when Darren and his girlfriend Malia (Roselyn Sanchez of “Rush Hour 2”) walk in uninvited on them. An argument follows, and Darren learns Malia and John were former lovers. John promises never to lie again to Brea. Indeed, he plans to propose to her, and he has a ring to back things up. While the four of them are circling each other warily, they hear a cell phone ring, but it sounds nothing like their cell phones. Brea concludes the woman she met in the restroom must have stashed it in her purse when she was not paying attention to her. Brea discovers the cell is in fact a satellite phone that contains hundreds of pictures of abused women.
Out of nowhere, Red shows up at the estate and demands Brea return his phone. He is so angry with the girl that hid it in Brea’s purse that he shoots her in her head. When motormouth Darren tries to intervene, he receives the same treatment. Red shoots him, and John takes a shotgun blast in the belly. Before she realizes it, Brea is taken hostage by Red, injected with tranquillizers, and tied up in an underground tunnel with many other girls. Only then does she realize the genuinely desperate predicament that she is in. “Traffic” qualifies as hokum from fade-in to fade out. The criminals believe so much in their invincibility that they make too many fatal errors. Brea gets extremely lucky when John and she initially eludes the bikers. As it turns out, the traffickers enjoy an edge over them that you should see coming if you remain alert. “Traffik” suffers from a gridlock of clichés.