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Any exposé of the sex-slave trade is going to be hard to watch, especially when it involves the trafficking of children across international borders. But as compelling and revealing as it is, Trade loses its nerve soon after crossing over from Mexico to the United States.


More than 10,000 people are smuggled into the United States for sexual exploitation, per the nonprofit organization Free the Slaves. Inspired by a New York Times Magazine article, Trade focuses on the attempts of traffickers to smuggle a group of women and children across the U.S.-Mexican border. Director Marco Kreuzpaintner wastes no time introducing us to the two victims he intends to follow from their kidnapping in Mexico to their auctioning off in the United States. Adriana (Paulina Gaitan) is snatched from the street as she rides the bicycle she just received from her brother Jorge (Cesar Ramos) for her 13th birthday. Single mother Veronica (Alicja Bachleda) arrives in Mexico City from Poland believing she's there to meet with the people she's paid to arrange her with safe and legal passage to the United States. Only she's been duped by the traffickers. Adriana, Veronica and a handful of other abductees then begin their terrifying journey to the United States under the watchful eye of trafficker Manuelo (Marco Perez). On their trail is Jorge, who feels responsible for Adriana's kidnapping. He risks life and limb to follow the abductees across the border. Once on U.S. soil, Jorge crosses paths with Ray (Kevin Kline), a Texas cop who's trying to break up the trafficking ring for personal reasons. Ray reluctantly pairs up with Jorge to track down Adriana before she and Veronica are sold off to the highest bidder via the Internet.


More gentleman than action hero, Kevin Kline's not the obvious choice to portray a police officer hailing from the Lone Star State. Ray's the kind of law-enforcement bloodhound Tommy Lee Jones can play in his sleep. Heck, Kline only halfheartedly attempts a Texas drawl, and even then he drops it minutes after his late entrance. This could be overlooked if Kline lent Ray some intensity. For someone on a crusade, Kline strolls through Trade without a care in the world. As Trade reaches its inevitable showdown between the traffickers and their pursuers, Ray's faced with a life-or-death choice that would compromise all he stands for. Kline, though, looks about as conflicted as someone trying to decide what he wants for lunch. Luckily, Kline's presence doesn't negate the fine work done by Ramos, Gaitan and Bachleda. Ramos perfectly captures the guilt of a troubled young man—one embarking on a life of crime—whose ill-gotten gains has cost him dearly. If Ramos offers a study in redemption, Bachleda goes to great pains to show the ease with which someone with so much grit and determination can bend and break under the most extreme of circumstances. Gaitan doesn't endure as much abuse, but she's still one tough cookie. Perez refuses to allow Manuelo to be a mere profit-minded monster—he provides Manuelo with a conscience, or what passes for one in his business.


Trade is a tale of two countries. While in Mexico, director Marco Kreuzpaintner examines the sex-slave trade in an incisive and uncompromising manner. He sheds light on how these trafficking rings acquire their slaves and smuggle them across the border. He puts us on edge the moment Adriana and Veronica fall in their captors' hands. We're never sure as to what will happen to them. We know they need to be kept alive. But in what condition? Many of the abductees are drugged, beaten and raped. The violence isn't exploitative—Kreuzpaintner just needs to show the cruelty inflicted upon these victims of the modern-day slave trade. And it only makes us fear more for Adrian and Veronica's safety. Once Trade reaches the United States, Kreuzpaintner and screenwriter Jose Rivera start pulling their punches. Yes, there are some moments that make you sick to your stomach. But the moment Kline arrives on the scene, Trade gets weak at the knees. There are too many coincidences for Trade's own good. The sudden death of one character is forced and absurd. And Kreuzpaintner doesn't know how to extricate Kline from the untenable situation he's placed in during Trade's climax. This all leads up to a pat ending, one that even the Lifetime TV crowd would find unbelievably spineless.

Bottom Line rated this film 2 1/2 stars.