Genre aficionados eager to sample some Wild West action likely will be disappointed by “Traded,” a retrograde horse opera in which the pacing is closer to a leisurely trot than a full gallop. Despite a few fine performances and mildly impressive production values, this indie drama about a former gunfighter’s relentless search for a daughter pressed into prostitution by flesh peddlers too often feels like the cinematic equivalent of a 45 rpm record played at 33 1/3. Indeed, it’s hard to shake the suspicion that if everyone moved and talked a tad quicker, and all the useless pregnant pauses were excised, the 98-minute movie, which opened June 10 in simultaneous theatrical and VOD release, might have clocked in at the brisk running time of a ’30s Republic Pictures B-movie Western.
Lead player Michael Paré is appropriately flinty as Clay Travis, an 1880s Kansas homesteader who’s still recovering from his young son’s accidental death when his teenage daughter (Brittany Williams) runs away from home, hoping to secure a job in Wichita as a Harvey Girl waitress. A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do, so Clay takes his six-guns out of mothballs — where, evidently, they’ve been stored ever since he turned from gunslinging to sodbusting — and leaves behind his distraught wife (Constance Brenneman) while he tracks down his errant offspring.
After what seems like a very long time, Clay catches up with his daughter in Dodge City, where she’s been dragooned into white slavery by a sleazy saloon owner (robustly overplayed by an amusingly uninhibited Tom Sizemore). But even then, there is a good deal more plot left to slowly unfold.
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Mostly due to the limp direction by Timothy Woodward Jr., “Traded” never really offers much in the way of suspense or excitement. But the sporadic outbursts of bloody violence are efficiently rendered, and a scene that climaxes with the dispatching of an abusive stepfather is dramatically and emotionally satisfying.
Better still, Mark Esslinger’s patchwork script contains a few vividly drawn characters, and Woodward has corralled the right actors to effectively play them. Kris Kristofferson invests his underwritten role as a straight-shooting bartender with grizzled sagacity, while country music star Trace Adkins is authoritatively menacing as a Wichita brothel proprietor who insists that, despite his business, he is a law-abiding citizen. Martin Kove is more than adequately repellent as the aforementioned abusive stepfather, making it all the more enjoyable when he gets what’s coming to him.
But the real standout performance in “Traded” comes from relative newcomer Marie Oldenbourg, who’s touchingly vulnerable as a disfigured young woman known only as Girl because, as she explains with a wan smile, she was considered “too ugly” to be given a proper name. To his credit, Clay tries to save her, too.