Dir: Marco Kreuzpaintner. US. 2007. 113mins.
While unconvincing as a muck-raking look at how a network of foreign sex-slave traffickers can operate within the US, Trade often works as a gritty, sordid thriller due to the pulsating, viscerally kinetic direction by German director Marco Kreuzpaintner. Working in Mexico City and the US, in Spanish and English, Kreuzpaintner brings some tough Amores Perros-style film-making sensibility to the exaggerated story, in which a Texas cop (Kevin Kline) and Mexican teen (Cesar Ramos) track a European-Mexican ring that has kidnapped the boy's virginal sister for internet auction to paedophiles in New Jersey.

Still, Trade lacks the profundity - and innovative elliptical storytelling - of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's look at Mexico City's dark side to be the kind of international sensation that his film was. It also lacks the credible socio-cultural importance of a film it seeks to emulate, Steven Soderbergh's Traffic (2000).

But the lurid topic and sense of squalid verisimilitude - and Kline's presence - should help it do US (and Mexican) business somewhere between the better Maria Full Of Grace (2004, US: $6.5m, UK: $1.3m, Sp: $0.4m, Mex: $0.3m) - about Colombian girls who smuggle drugs into the US - and the more sensationalistic porn-industry thriller 8MM (1999, w'wide: $96.6m, int'l: 62%, US: $37m).

International revenue, especially in Europe, will be helped by Kreuzpaintner's successful last film, Summer Storm, as well as by German production/financial assistance. German-born Roland Emmerich, director of such big-budget special-effects films as Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, is a producer of this moderately budgeted film, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival.

In 2004, investigative journalist Peter Landesman's The Girls Next Door article for The New York Times Magazine shocked many with its claim of an illegal network trafficking in sex slaves in the U.S. He won a prestigious Overseas Press Club award for the piece but the accuracy was challenged by the online magazine Slate.

Trade , with a screenplay by The Motorcycle Diaries' Jose Rivera, follows the broad outline of that article. But its narrative inventions don't do much to make it believable. Some of the critical plot points seem downright ludicrous as it follows its characters from La Merced - a grimy, crowded Mexico City slum - to Jersey.

For instance, when a Polish woman (Alicja Bachleda) being smuggled into the US from Mexico by sadistic sex slavers tells a Border Patrol officer she's being held captive, he laughs at her. (Wouldn't he be suspicious of a European woman sneaking in from Mexico') There are other examples.

But if the story strains to be taken seriously, Kreuzpaintner's direction (and Daniel Gottschalk's cinematography) is tense and frequently artful and poetic. He infuses the narrative pacing with the rhythm of naturalism; it unfolds as if in real time. It opens with a riveting montage of Mexico City life set to music. When the bicycling 13-year-old Adriana (Paulina Gaitan) is followed through the city streets by kidnappers in a car, the camera catches the suspense from multiple angles.

And some of the shots, such as the endless tract homes of McAllen, Texas, and a shopping-cart littered Jersey parking lot, capture the detritus and desolation of American life with genius outsider's eye.

Kline's button-down Texas cop Ray takes some getting used to, especially his timidity and reserve, but it is a credible performance. However, the buddy-pairing between him and Ramos' Jorge comes off as forced and the hectoring tone of their repartee is hollow. The character of Jorge in general doesn't work and Ramos' performance is too superficially excitable.

Of special note is Kate Del Castillo's turn as the malevolent Laura, the Mexican woman who operates the Jersey stash house where Adriana is being held captive during her internet auction. With her dangerous taunting purr of a voice and intense blue eyes, she's like something out of a horror movie - or Ilsa, She Wolf Of The SS - and dominates her every second of screen time.

Production companies/backers
Centropolis Entertainment
VIP Medienfonds 4

International sales
Hyde Park International

US distribution

Roland Emmerich
Rosilyn Heller

Executive producers
Ashok Amritraj
Robert Leger
Tom Ortenberg
Michael Wimer
Andreas Grosch
Nick Hamson
Peter Landesman
Lars Sylvest

Jose Rivera
Story by Peter Landesman and Jose Rivera
from The New York Times article The Girls Next Door

Daniel Gottschalk

Hansjorg Weissbrich

Production design
Bernt Amadeus Capra

Leonardo Heiblum
Jacobo Lieberman

Main cast
Kevin Kline
Cesar Ramos
Alicja Bachleda
Paulina Gaitan
Marco Perez
Kate Del Castillo