It's no secret that many viewers find stories of criminal sexual perversion titillating. Sometimes these stories are presented as unadulterated entertainment. Often though, they're sold in the guise of message films. Trade (2007) falls squarely into this second camp. Beneath its layers of soap opera melodrama, bad buddy-cop comedy, and B-grade road chase action yarn, is the message that tens of thousands of women and children are involuntarily trafficked into the United States for sex each year and not enough is being done to stop it. This is indisputably an important message. Too bad it's lost amidst the mess.
Trade principally concerns the fate of Adriana (Paulina Gaitan), a girl from Mexico City. Adriana receives a bicycle from her 17-year-old brother, Jorge (Cesar Ramos), for her 13th birthday. Adriana's mother forbids her to ever ride the bike because Mexico City is too dangerous. Bright and early next morning, Adriana disobeys her mother and is immediately snatched off the bike by the Russian mafia. With me so far?
Jorge finds out that Adriana is probably in the hands of the Russians and will likely be transported to New Jersey. He then manages to locate where Adriana is being held across town (town being a city of 28.5 million people) when he just happens to see her loaded into a truck. Jorge then runs back to his neighborhood, steals a friend's car, and speeds back across town in time to follow the truck. So far so good?
Jorge manages to follow the truck undetected 1200 miles north, but runs out of gas just a few hundred yards short of the town Adriana will be held in until smuggled across the border into the United States. Jorge again locates Adriana, but once more loses track of her when she's driven north. Luckily, Ray (Kevin Kline), a Texas Ranger looking for his own daughter that may have been sold into slavery several years earlier, shows up just then and Jorge stows away in the trunk of Ray's car. Still following this?
Ray returns to Texas. Jorge pops out of the trunk and tells Ray his story and within a couple minutes Ray and Jorge are on their way to New Jersey to rescue Adriana. Then at a truck stop on the way to Jersey, Ray and Jorge coincidentally happen across a young boy who was one of the other sex slaves that was being transported with Adriana. Ray and Jorge free the boy from the grips of a lecherous old man and obtain information that allows them to enter into an online eBay-like bidding war for Adriana. Got all that?
Using a last-second high bid, Ray wins Adriana (who knew that online auction sniping could be so dramatic). Ray goes to pick up his purchase and low and behold it turns out that the slaver in charge of the auction may be Ray's long lost daughter. Grotesque and fantastical developments ensue, but Adriana ultimately is reunited with her mother, presumably never to ride a bike again.
This summary of Trade's plot has skipped over the frequent molestations, rapes, beatings, and other brutality inflicted on the women and children being trafficked, but rest assured German director Marco Kreuzpainter provides plenty of it to titillate or aggrieve every viewer, along with loads of clichéd stereotypes about U.S. law enforcement, Eastern Europeans and Mexicans of all stripes, and repeated attempts at cross-cultural buddy-cop humor between Jorge and Ray that appears modeled on Rush Hour (1998), but which plays more like dated outtakes from Running Scared (1986).
The DVD preserves the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio of the 35mm theatrical print with an attractive anamorphic transfer. Removable English or Spanish subtitles are appropriately sized, paced, and placed.
This disc offers 2.0 and 5.1 Dolby Digital audio. Both sound lively, with good channel separation, and no noticeable distortion or dropout.
Trade includes a director's commentary, as well as one of those standard making of documentaries, here entitled Chasing Shadows (20 min.), in which everybody involved in the film makes complementary comments about everyone else, and they all state how important this film is. There's also an 8-minute featurette on the original news article on human trafficking into the United States that inspired this film. To round this out, there are deleted scenes and trailers for other Lionsgate DVDs.
Sex trafficking is an important issue deserving of attention, but Trade misuses the subject. To mix together bad buddy-cop comedy between a sixty-year-old man and a 17-year-old boy, with an international road chase, soap opera melodrama, and frequent scenes of sexual victimization makes for an unpleasant result. At best, Kreuzpainter fails to appreciate that Adriene's story is sufficient to carry the film on its own without all the hokum of Jorge and Ray. At worst, Kreuzpainter purposefully sublimates the message to the service of his film. In any case, the result is dismal.
Viewers interested in a more realistic portrayal of a girl involuntarily snared in the international sex trade should see Lukas Moodysson's Lilya 4-ever (2002). Trade is ridiculous and pointlessly disgusting. Would be viewers are advised to skip it.