Based on Peter Landesman's acclaimed New York Times Magazine article "The Girls Next Door," an expose of the lucrative business of sex trafficking, Marco Kreuzpaintner and Jose Rivera's thriller is awash in exploitation-movie cliches that betray its apparent seriousness of purpose.
Impoverished teenager Jorge (Cesar Ramos) and his naive younger sister Adriana (Paulina Gaitan) live with their mother in Mexico City, where Jorge's 13th-birthday gift of a bicycle inadvertently places Adriana in harm's way. Adriana sneaks out of the house for an early-morning ride and is kidnapped by Russian thugs who answer to Vadim Youchenko (Pasha D. Lychnikoff). She is then transported 1,200 miles to Juarez with a small group of unfortunate women and children to await sale to wealthy sexual adventurers. Adriana's fellow prisoners include young mother Veronica (Alicja Bachleda), who was lured away from her impoverished family in Poland with the promise of a job in America. Veronica was instead flown to Mexico City, where she was beaten, raped and warned that if she tries to escape, her mother and small son will pay the price. The guilt-stricken Jorge swears to rescue his sister, who may have been moved to New Jersey, and acquires an unlikely ally in quiet, conservative American insurance investigator Ray (Kevin Kline), who has more in common with Jorge than either at first imagines. Ray recently learned that his illegitimate daughter Carly, whom he didn't know existed until the recent death of the child's drug-addicted mother, disappeared when she was just a little girl and may have been sold to traffickers in Juarez. Racked by remorse and horrified by evidence of a cruel world of sexual brutality and modern-day enslavement he could never have imagined, Ray agrees to help Jorge find Adriana before she's auctioned off to the highest online bidder.
Though Landesman collaborated with screenwriter Rivera on the film's narrative, it owes less to his own clear-eyed reporting than to the pulp conventions of white-slave tales: The embattled virgin, the feisty woman of the world, the leering thugs and perverted clients, the virtuous man who will move heaven and earth to save an abductee from a fate worse than death. To Rivera and director Kreuzpaintner's credit, the brutal degradation of Veronica and Adriana is never played for cheap thrills: Sexual abuse is consistently presented as violence rather than an opportunity for illicit eroticism. But the story's incredible coincidences, lazy cynicism and easy ironies recast a real-life horror story as easy-to-dismiss melodrama, complete with sequential "happy" endings. (In English and subtitled Spanish, Russian and Polish) leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh