Sex sells, Kevin Kline finds, as he tracks human traffickers over and back across the U.S.-Mexican border


on September 28, 2007 by Annlee Ellingson
In this topical drama, 13-year-old Adriana (Paulina Gaitan) is plucked off her brand-new bicycle in the streets of Mexico City and plunged into the underground sex trade. Also in the slave “tunnels” bound for the border are Veronica (Alicija Bachleda), a young woman who left her son behind in Poland in search of a better life in California, and a boy from Southeast Asia. Although on the path to criminality himself—he and his friends make a living by robbing tourists whom they've lured to back alleys with promises of prostitutes—Adriana's brother Jorge (Cesar Ramos, a revelation) takes chase in an unlikely manhunt across international lines.

It's not until 35 minutes in that top-liner Kevin Kline enters the story as Ray, a Texas cop on the same trail as Jorge. Suspecting that a daughter he didn't know he had was sold into slavery several years before, he seeks to learn what happened to her, if not find and bring her home. In a plot that's necessarily contrived, Ray and Jorge team up to save Adriana, serendipitously tracking her over the border and cross-country until their paths converge in New Jersey.

In his follow-up to Summer Storm , director Marco Kreuzpaintner and screenwriter Jose Rivera ( The Motorcycle Diaries ) tend toward melodrama, but they are helped by Jacobo Lieberman and Leonardo Heiblum's emotion-eliciting and suspense-sustaining score and saved by Carla Hool's charismatic casting. Especially entertaining is the rapport between the straitlaced, classical music-loving Ray and his sullen, smartass charge.

In a typical exchange, Jorge asks, “Do you have any Mexican friends?”

“Do you have any American friends?” Ray counters.

“All my friends are Americans—North Americans, Central Americans, South Americans. It's not just you, ignorant gringo.”

Without making a message movie, the filmmakers have shed light on a serious yet underappreciated sociopolitical issue. Approximately 600,000 to 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year, estimates Peter Landesman, who wrote the New York Times Magazine cover story “The Girls Next Door” on which the film is based. Of these, 100,000 are trafficked across the U.S.-Mexican border. But to the film's credit, it's the individual stories that are the focus here, offering empathetic characters that audiences can feel for rather than impersonal, if alarming, statistics. Distributor: Lionsgate
Cast: Kevin Kline, Cesar Ramos, Alicja Bachleda, Paulina Gaitan, Marco Perez, Linda Emond, Zack Ward, Kate Del Castillo, Tim Reid and Pasha D. Lychnikoff
Director: Marco Kreuzpaintner
Screenwriter: Jose Rivera
Producers: Roland Emmerich and Rosilyn Heller
Genre: Drama
Rating: R for disturbing sexual material involving minors, violence including rape, language and some drug content
Running time: 117 min.
Release date: September 28, 2007 ltd.
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