Grade: C- at best
Entire family: No
2016, 98 min., Color
Not Rated: Would be PG for violence and adult situations
Aspect ration: 16×9 widescreen (letterboxed)
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: C-
Even though Westerns aren’t as popular as they once were, especially with young viewers, you’d think a Western version of Taken might win a few new converts. And Traded might have, if the writing and acting were better.
Clichés roll like tumbleweeds in this drama starring Michael Paré as a retired gunfighter now living as a rancher with a wife, an older teenage daughter named Lily (Brittany Elizabeth Williams) and a young son named Jake (Hunter Fischer). But familiarity isn’t the problem. Every Western is built on clichés. A good one makes you forget those clichés; a bad one makes those clichés stand out like the neck hair on a rabid dog.
Kids need characters to identify with, and unlike Shane, you lose the boy just a half-hour into the film when he’s killed by a rattlesnake—which almost comes as a relief, because the over-the-top family wholesomeness will strike today’s families as being trying-too-hard hokey. The family in Act 1 of Traded is more like the Flanders family in The Simpsons than the wholesome-but-believable Ingalls family in Little House on the Prairie.
When Lily is kidnapped by white slavers working as brothel suppliers and his wife Amelia (Constance Brenneman) has a breakdown, Clay Travis chooses to go after his daughter. That’s when you hope he also leaves the hokiness in his dust, but nope, it follows him to Wichita and then Dodge City. An exchange with a saloon owner (Tom Sizemore) and a face-off with a tough brothel owner (Trace Adkins) have the same kind of hokey dialogue as the opening sequences, and even the normally charismatic Kris Kristofferson can’t get past the bad writing as he plays an older bartender who provides help.
The look of Traded is authentic enough, helped considerably by location shooting in California and New Mexico and believable interior sets, but only a few moments stand out—like the scene where Travis tells a man to take his glasses off before he punches him, or when he wails on a bad dad and in so doing earns the help of the man’s teenage daughter. But scenes like those only serve to remind you that the rest of it is all pretty tedious and riddled with poor dialogue—so surface obvious that you find yourself wondering if the problem is with the lines themselves or the acting. Either way, director Timothy Woodward Jr. seems uneasily comfortable proceeding.
There aren’t enough plot twists for me to talk about narrative thrust without revealing too much, but though the action picks up in the third act I found Traded hard going. The West would have been easier, I found myself thinking. And my kids? No one had to kidnap them. They left the room voluntarily after the first confrontation didn’t up the ante enough for them.
Language: Some mild swearwords and old-timey Western equivalents
Sex: Nothing graphic, but prostitutes and brothels are shown
Violence: The obligatory Western showdown plus other gun and fist violence scattered throughout
Adult situations: drinking, smoking, houses of ill-repute
Takeaway: With a great premise, it’s surprising a film like this didn’t fare better. I blame the writers, and feel sorry for the actors whose performances seem boxed in by bad writing and scenic construction