‘Trapped’ (2002): A solidly paced kidnap thriller

Mama Bear goes on rampage when child is kidnapped for ransom—and you don’t want to mess with this animal.

By Jason Hink

The good folks at Mill Creek Entertainment have released on Blu-ray the 2002 Columbia Pictures thriller, Trapped, starring blonde bombshell Charlize Theron just one year before her career would hit the stratosphere. Directed by Luis Mandoki, the film co-stars familiar faces Kevin Bacon, Courtney Love, Stuart Townsend, Dakota Fanning, Pruitt Taylor Vince and Colleen Camp.

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Our tale begins in Portland, Oregon, where rich, well-regarded Dr. Will Jennings (Stuart Townsend), a research physician, scoots off in his fancy amphibious plane, leaving behind his wife, Karen (Charlize Theron), and their young daughter, Abigail (Dakota Fanning). Big mistake. As soon as Will checks into his hotel room, Karen has her hands full not with young Abigail, but with Joe Hickey (Kevin Bacon), an intruder who’s broken into the Jennings’ home, surprising a distraught Karen who can’t seem to find her daughter.

The gig’s in play. Abigail has been kidnapped by Joe, and it’s not a simplistic job, either; these guys are running a complex scam—Joe has handed over Abigail to portly henchman Marvin (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who looks after the youngster in a rundown shack while awaiting orders from Joe via telephone. Meanwhile, a third accomplice, Joe’s loopy wife, Cheryl, has checked into the same hotel that Dr. Jennings is staying at to run her part of the scam. The three of them aim to extort money from the rich Jennings family and, if all goes to plan, avoid bloodshed. But a curve ball forces them to adjust the plan: young Abigail is asthmatic, and if she doesn’t get her meds, she could die—and with her, the thieves’ chances of a rich payday. But Joe Hickey isn’t about to abort this particular mission, and when more details of his past are revealed, there’s more than meets the eye—and this score is more than just a handsome payday for the professional criminal.

I rather enjoyed revisiting Trapped after all these years. I have a vague memory of renting it at the video store (probably in late 2002), with the girlfriend drawn to Kevin Bacon (she’s a big Footloose fan) and me drawn to the thriller aesthetic carried over from all those domestic thrillers from the ’90s. Throw in some decent action and stunt work in the final minutes, and Trapped is a worthwhile way to waste 105 minutes on a cold, rainy night.

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Bacon’s good as the maniacal Joe Hickey, but make no mistake—this movie clearly belongs to Charlize Theron, a chameleon of an actress who plays the distressed Karen Jennings with an ingrained strength; you’re able to lose yourself in her characterization, believing that she could be you—a young parent who must play by the rules of a madman to ensure the safe return of your loved one. By 2002, Theron already had a steady, 7-year career in motion pictures, but hadn’t broken out as the star she’d soon become. A month after Trapped‘s September 2002 release, she co-starred in the flop road-dramedy, Waking Up in Reno…but bigger things were on the horizon. 2003 would be her breakout year, with starring roles in two major hits: The Italian Job and Monster, the latter of which scored Theron the Academy Award for Best Actress and catapulted her into the upper tier of Hollywood’s leading ladies.

Meanwhile, Kevin Bacon shows good range as the maniacal Hickey, who’s not just out for money in his latest scheme—he wants revenge as well. Bacon, sporting a buff bod and a creepy vibe, has a bad-boy look and charm that’s believable in that Christian Bale-in-American Psycho mold. Bacon and Theron’s chemistry works well in Trapped, with the two pros locked in a strategic game of cat and mouse that rings true to the viewer. Bacon’s 2003 would also be fruitful with a supporting role in the Clint Eastwood mystery, Mystic River.

In the B-story, actor Stuart Townsend’s Dr. Jennings is effective opposite Courtney Love’s drugged out Cheryl (is Love even acting here? A convincing performance…). I can’t help but feel an underlying attraction between the two, even though they’re mortal enemies with Dr. Jennings strategically playing Cheryl, faux-sympathizing with her in an almost Bondian effort to win her over to his side so he can save his daughter from imminent death. The chemistry between Townsend and Love is good. In fact, their chemistry is better than Townsend’s and Theron’s (to be fair, the latter pair see limited screen time together). What makes these pairings even more interesting is that in real life, Townsend and Theron struck up a relationship during the filming of Trapped in 2001—a relationship that would last until their eventual breakup in 2009.

Dakota Fanning, just seven years old at the time of filming, shows strtength and courage in her performance, and it’s obvious here that she was going to be around for a while. Her scenes opposite her kidnapper, played by Pruitt Taylor Vince, are tense; I’m convinced she’s going to die when she suffers one of her asthma bouts…and like her on-screen parents, she also warms up to her kidnapper in an effort to gain the upper hand and sneak herself out of harm’s way.

Mexican director Luis Mandoki (Gaby: A True Story, Message in a Bottle) had just come off a string of romantic dramas, including 2001’s Jennifer Lopez vehicle, Angel Eyes. It’s clear he has an eye for relationship drama, which he exploits well in Trapped, while ramping up the suspense and action set pieces. Trapped flopped at theaters, grossing just $13.4 million worldwide against a $30 million budget in 2002. Its domestic haul of around $7.1 million landed it in 167th place at the box office in 2002. Flying under the radar, it was perfect for the home video market in those early 2000s when video stores were still renting out VHS tapes alongside DVDs, which were taking more and more market share as time passed.

Now, home video is where you can find it again as Mill Creek continues pumping out forgotten catalog titles like Trapped on a regular basis. The 1080p HD widescreen transfer looks pretty good, considering the elements they’re given. There are no extra features on this release, but English SDH subtitles are included. Trapped isn’t new or groundbreaking, and we’ve seen this plot a thousand times before…but the good performances and nice pacing makes it a decent time-waster.

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