Sex Sells 

click to enlarge art39_film_trade_100.jpg

Think of a ballet slipper designed by Nike. It should now be easy to make the leap to "Trade," a high-minded drama about sex slavery produced by the director responsible for "Stargate," "Independence Day" and "Godzilla." Roland Emmerich was originally scheduled to direct, but, evidently distracted by another big-budget blockbuster, he handed off the film to a 20-something German director named Marco Kreuzpaintner. The shameless result is as far from sincerity as your nearest presidential cabinet. As the image of the ballet slipper dissolves, imagine "Traffic" on its own drugs.

"Trade" gets under way with two conveniently staged abductions. The first is Veronica (Alicja Bachleda-Curus), a pretty Polish woman who has come to America through a relocation agency in the hopes that she can bring her son over later. At this point we get a good idea of what kind of movie this is. Veronica's expectations are left to the imagination, while the film practically salivates at unfolding the grisly details of her forced abduction, rapes and torture over miles of American roads. This is Veronica the poster child, not the person.

Similarly, we learn of Adriana (Paulina Gaitan), a 13-year-old Mexican girl kidnapped during a bike ride through her neighborhood by severe-looking men who leap at her from a black Mercedes. We don't see her again until she is united a few scenes later with Veronica in the same holding center, but later her plight gets the same lurid, sensational treatment. The drawn-out sequence when she is sold into her first sex act, bathed in ghostly light, works only as an experiment in kitsch.

The premise for the movie evolved out of "The Girls Next Door," a 2004 New York Times Magazine exposé on sex slavery by Peter Landesman. Landesman, investigating prostitution, realized that what he was really witnessing was sex slavery. Replacing Landesman's character with a distraught brother (Cesar Ramos) and a good-old-boy cop (Kevin Kline) (irreverent banter = comic relief) the movie version is no more than crass opportunism with a mask of grief, an exploitation of the exploited. (R) 119 min. S

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