Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Trigger Effect (1996) 2 of 4

** this post contains increasingly severe spoilers **

What if an extended blackout hit North America?  Would friendships survive?  Use of force?  What would you do?

The Trigger Effect is surprisingly glossy for its low profile (perhaps given a nip/tuck for Netflix play).  The surprise evaporates, knowing it was the directing debut of writer David Koepp, better known for (co-) writing the ginormous likes of Death Becomes HerJurassic Park and Mission: Impossible.
our lives need some excitement ...
Kyle MacLachlan and Elisabeth Shue are married with youngsters, as they juggle upper-middle annoyances: home renovations, a kid with an earache, a loud conversation behind them at the movies.  The latter, the dynamic opener, illustrates the boxed-in male: when the wife shushes, the stranger curses.  If hubby gets into it he risks the enjoyment/safety of bystanders; if he retreats (as here), he's a pussy.  Later he tries the wild side, stealing the kid's med (fleeing the world's most intimidating pharmacist), emboldening himself for armed standoffs.

Koepp's working relationship with Steven Spielberg makes sense: each is a master of craft without having much to say.  Flirting with both multi-strand and apocalypse, The Trigger Effect is like a formative, risk-averse Crash (2004) or The Walking Dead.  There's a vagueness to pre-9/11 political thrillers, but from the blunt-force 21st century, this movie seems coy and unfinished.
The script occasionally fails the plausibility test, all-important in high-concept.  Example: homeowner (MacLachlan) watches a prowler from cover, then turns his back.  Dialogue (unnecessarily) references the Indian Point power plant (outside NYC), underlining the sunny California locations, less than ideal for the indie-dramatic variant of Koepp's War of the Worlds.
Still, it's a mostly smart film, with characters recognizable amid anomaly.  Male friends buy a shotgun, but between ambivalence and a few drinks, it ends up at the bottom of the in-ground pool.  Shue's character increasingly flirts with Dermot Mulroney as the friend/carpenter; they kiss, only to mutually pull back.  Too bad the entire movie pulls back. 

The film is a '90s elaboration on the 1960 Twilight Zone "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street."  Thus there are black characters, namely the theater talkers, one of whom (Richard T. Jones) is fated for a more serious altercation with MacLachlan.  (Note: I cover this aspect while horrified by the ID politics of 2018, created partly by media criticism.)
The race factor remains unspoken.  It's a valid choice -- until aforesaid prowler is shot dead.  Like the neighborhood, the intruder is white; he's also slight, and known to be armed only with a knife.  The (white) neighbor shooting from a distance seems unlikely: now it's the movie avoiding race.    
Finally, I wished for resonant dialogue predicting future grid-interruptions.  Maybe Koepp leaves this implied, too, but the film ends up anticlimactic: there was a blackout, they survived with hurt feelings, sadder-but-wiser.  

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