Every year thousands of young women and boys are smuggled illegally into the United States and pimped out or sold to perverts. Peter Landesman wrote an article about these sex slaves (“The Girls Next Door”) for the New York Times Magazine in 2004, and while some of the details of his account have been called into question, there’s no doubt that the basics are true.
That does not mean, however, that “Trade,” the grueling new film inspired by Landesman’s article, is automatically worthwhile. On the contrary, it is a grotesque movie about grotesque people who do grotesque things. Its alleged interest in calling attention to the atrocities of sex-slavery notwithstanding, it’s simply not a well-made movie.
The story is of Jorge (Cesar Ramos), a Mexico City teen who sets out to rescue his 13-year-old sister Adriana (Paulina Gaitan) from the Russian traffickers who have abducted her and sent her northward into the U.S. Kids are taken every day in Mexico City, just nabbed right off the streets. The bicycle Jorge gave Adriana for her birthday is still there on the asphalt where she was snatched, the crayon-drawn thank-you card she was taking to him lying next to it.
While tailing the abductors over the course of a few days, Jorge meets Ray (Kevin Kline), a Texas police officer who’s in Mexico on a search of his own. He eventually believes Jorge’s story and agrees to help him rescue Adriana, only to find the effort hampered by uncooperative or unsympathetic U.S. law enforcement agencies.
29-year-old German director Marco Kreuzpaintner, working from a screenplay by Jose Rivera (“The Motorcycle Diaries”), tells the story with gritty realism, but waters it down with laughable melodrama. A lingering shot of a rose that’s been trampled on the pavement. A villain holding up a photo of a woman’s young daughter, then slowly tearing it in half. So many ham-fisted tries at symbolism, which tends to lose its impact when it’s done so blatantly.
Eventually, the contrivances of the plot become too numerous to be ignored. “Trade” brings up an important issue, and maybe it will inspire people to take a greater interest in stopping this horrific practice. But by trivializing their experiences, it does a disservice to the real people whose lives have been destroyed by sex-trafficking. The subject deserves a good film, and this is not it.
D+ (1 hr., 59 min.; )