The international sex trade has a long and notorious history, going back to the 1920s and ’30s when it carried the lurid designation of “white slavery.” Now, in the age of the computer and international crime syndicates, victims by the thousands are kidnapped from a variety of nations, often forced into drug addiction, and compelled to serve as prostitutes in distant lands. Trade, based on Peter Landesman’s article “The Girls Next Door” published in The New York Times, is an attempt to illustrate how women are tricked and abducted by brutal kidnappers working on deadline to supply an always profitable market.
No sooner has 13-year-old Adriana (Paulina Gaitan) taken her first ride on a bicycle provided by her 17-year-old brother Jorge (Cesar Ramos) down the barrios of Mexico City than she is kidnapped by members of a Russian syndicate. Raped and beaten, Adriana’s only hope is that Jorge will somehow track her down and help her escape. Another prisoner with Adriana is the lovely Veronica (Alicja Bachelda), a striking Polish beauty who has been abducted at curbside while leaving the airport. Older and wiser, she pities the naive Adriana, hugging her compassionately and explaining the seriousness of their plight.
Most of the action of Trade involves the desperate—and often improbable--gambits of Jorge to track down his sister. But in Juarez luck, in the form of a Texas cop, Ray (Kevin Kline), intervenes, and thanks to the lawman, whose specialty is insurance, Jorge makes it all the way to New Jersey. There he discovers that Adriana is already on the auction block with a starting bid of twenty-five-thousand dollars. Ray has some money, and now reveals his secret motivation for helping Jorge. Years before he lost his own daughter to an international syndicate. By now the two men have bonded, and they stand a good chance of rescuing Adriana. And even if they fail, there is always the chance that a SWAT team might conveniently appear.
Screenwriter Jose Rivera (The Motorcycle Diaries) has taken several steps backward with this script: All the victims are pure, all the rescuers have soul, and all the members of the syndicate are snakes…with one strange exception—a heretofore nasty killer who changes his attitude at a key moment when Adriana takes his hands and looks deeply into his eyes. In addition to one-dimensional characters, the plot is unconvincing, with contrivance heaped upon contrivance.
Kline’s Ray is a cop who doesn’t seem capable of fighting, except in the scene where he strong-arms a pederast to reveal the sex trade’s computer password. A lover of classical music, and a man whose low-key musings suggest the perpetual dreamer, he is much too passive for a man of action. Linda Emond as Ray’s spunky wife would have been better, and much more fun, in the role that eludes Kline. And the friendship between Ray and Jorge is hard to buy. Kline hardly bothers to look at the boy, who sneers at his paternal gambits. Ramos’ Jorge offers three expressions: scowling, jeering and scorning. His anger is over-the-top, manifested by grinding teeth and pursed lips. For most of the film, he does little more than survey the long road ahead, sorrowful eyes heavy with the prospect of tears.