Blogger Daniel Radosh has raised troubling questions about the accuracy of Peter Landesman's "The Girls Next Door," the explosive, shocking 2004 New York Times Magazine article that inspired the socially charged drama Trade. Unfortunately, the film does nothing to improve Landesman's credibility by spinning an ostensibly fact-based story about sex slavery into a purple morality tale that'd feel more at home at a disreputable '70s drive-in than on PBS. Like Crash, Trade is a pulpy Hollywood-style melodrama disguised as a harrowing message movie about Important Social Issues. It labors under the delusion that it's this year's revelatory, eye-opening Maria Full Of Grace, when it's little more than a B-movie with an overwrought conscience.
Marco Kreuzpaintner's ripped-from-the-headlines drama explores the child sex-slave trade through the burgeoning odd-couple relationship between a street-smart 17-year-old Mexican hustler (Cesar Ramos) who sneaks across the border to locate his kidnapped 13-year-old sister, and Kevin Kline's mournful investigator, a straight-shooter with demons and secrets of his own. Kline and Ramos' far-too-familiar dynamic—the by-the-book straight arrow and the cocky kid who plays by his own rules—seems borrowed from countless buddy-cop movies, while the sordid plot leans too heavily on far-fetched coincidences.
Trade's details are far too lurid to feel convincing. It's all seemingly too bad to be true, from a sinister cornfield that serves as a makeshift pedophile motel to child sex slaves being sold online to the highest bidder, like tea cozies on eBay. The sneering bad guys are painted just as broadly, from the dragon lady with the monstrously dilated pupils of a fairytale witch to the drugged-up shit-kicker who uses cocaine to fuel his raging misanthropy. Even the little details meant to humanize the demonic flesh-peddlers (gosh, they've got kids! And they pray! Just like non-scum!) feel too neatly ironic. Every single word of Landesman's piece could be true, but Trade still feels like dodgy pulp fiction.