release date: august 30th, 1996
production budget: $8 million
u.s. gross: $3.59 million
released during labor day weekend in 1996, a weekend traditionally reserved for low budget fares, the trigger effect is writer/director david koepp’s directorial debut. koepp’s name may seem familiar as he is the screenwriter for bad influence, toy soldiers, death becomes her, the paper, and the shadow before this, and later on, panic room, spider-man, zathura, indian jones and shia the beef, angels and demons, and the upcoming jack ryan reboot. he also wrote and directed stir of echoes, ghost town, and this week’s premium rush.
he also wrote robert zemeckis’ death becomes her and the first two jurassic park movies, and it is one of the few darker movies (thematically and literally) from amblin entertainment. their influence, if any, aren’t really noticeable on screen.
one obvious influence though, is brian de palma, whose carlito’s way, mission: impossible: 1, and snake eyes are based on koepp’s screenplays. this is the opening title sequence at a movie theatre. it’s not as impressive nor as lengthy as de palma would have done. they only went half-de palma. it’s nevertheless a visually pleasing sequence.
what’s more notable about this sequence is in the narrative sense. within five minutes of the movie (instead of heavy-handed and tedious expositions), it sets up the personalities and relationship of the main couple (kyle maclachlan and elisabeth shue) based on their reaction, conversation, or a simple eye roll. the issue of race is also brought up as two african american fellow moviegoers who sit behind the couple talk loudly. the couple decided to change seats instead of confronting the talkers. even intermediate level movie fans can tell that all these things will come back later on and perhaps even play a crucial part in the movie, especially since this is post-l.a.-riot and pre-september 11.
we then follow the couple home to their new house and newborn baby. their relationship is shown as even shakier than we thought. there is a citywide blackout and no one knows when the power will come back on. this prevents them from acquiring medicine for their baby. and then their blue collar friend dermot mulroney shows up unannounced. there are enough material here for a low-fi apocalyptic movie, with who’s afriad of virginia woolf/neil labute-esque dynamic amongst the three characters.
oh but there’s more: their friend eventually convinced them that they need weapons, for protection of course. and wouldn’t you know it, that very night, someone breaks into the house and long story short, someone gets killed (and he wasn’t even wearing a hoodie), morals, loyalty, and friendship are tested. though it’s hard to believe that police would show up within two minutes of a gun shot during a citywide blackout.
so what we have so far is kind of an amalgam of the yuppies-in-peril meets lord of the flies meets sinister suburb standards. probably dating back to the original straw dogs and as recent as lakeview terrace (interestingly, directed by neil labute), in between there’s the ‘burbs, blue velvet (also starring maclachlan), pacific heights, unlawful entry, the hand that rocks the cradle, and um…the straw dogs remake.
though it utilizes well-known elements, the film does have some nice moments. mcclachlan complains vocally about mulroney smoking in the house and he ignores him but he puts out the cigarette after shue’s subtle gesture. there’s an interesting scene in the gun shop where mcclachlan hands the negotiation with the gun shop owner (played by richard schiff from tv’s west wing and lost world: jurassic park, and also a gun shop clerk in stop or my mom will shoot) over to mulroney because “this is more your thing” as in this is people in your economic class so you deal with him. it’s also interesting that the three characters happen to hold three definite positions on guns, with maclachlan’s character, as expected, to be the moderate.
oh but there is more, and this is where the movie goes off the rail and becomes directionless. the third act begins with the three protagonists leaving their suburb house to shue’s character’s parents. as if all the previous elements aren’t enough, there is now the end-of-the-world road movie in the mix. without spoiling the movie, i would say that while it’s usually welcoming to see michael rooker in a movie, and though he is great here, his part is entirely unnecessary other than to set up the final conflict. the movie does somewhat redeem itself by bringing back one of the black moviegoers in the opening sequence. he is played by richard t. jones from tv’s girlfriends, tv’s terminator: the sarah connor chronicles, and unfortunately, the upcoming atlas shrugged part ii.
unlike most of the movies we reviewed here, there is too much ingredients for a hour and a half movie. the mixing of different genres may have been intended to be unpredictable but the elements are so recognizable that it defeats the original purpose. with the race, class, guns, and moral issues raised and the rushed ending, it either needs to be a 2 1/2 hour social issue/morality tale, or stripped down to a short stage play-ish movie. while i like all the actors and their performances, and i appreciate the fact that it’s not as tawdry as movies with similar premise, the pots never really boiled. you know something’s not quite right when a movie about a large scale blackout ends up with the blackout feeling like an afterthought.
i can’t quite recommend it based on the movie itself, though fans of the actors should have a decent time (that is if you’ve already seen maclachlan in blue velvet, the hidden, one night stand, timecode, hamlet 2000, and tv’s portlandia; elisabeth shue in adventures in babysitting, twenty bucks, the underneath, leaving las vegas, the saint, deconstructing harry, palmetto, and season 7 of curb your enthusiasm; mulroney in the hilarious and overlooked living in oblivion and tv’s friends; michael rooker in cliffhanger, mallrats, deceiver, the replacement killers, and slither) and i would recommend the widescreen dvd version of the movie, as the vhs copy i watched cropped out elisabeth shue’s nipples. of course, if that’s what you’re looking for, you’re better off watching leaving las vegas instead.
p.s. the movie they went to see in the opening sequence is spike lee’s clockers. i don’t know if it was picked intentionally or if it’s because both the trigger effect and clockers are by universal. like all those castle rock movie posters on seinfeld. i’m going with intentional as race kind of plays a part in the movie. they could have picked other 1995 universal movies like babe, 12 monkeys, or waterworld. another movie poster we see in the movie has the title “_____ window.” koepp will go on to write and direct the stephen king movie secret window.
the premise of the first half may sound familiar, it’s partially based on the twilight zone episode “the monsters are due on maple street.” i haven’t seen the original episode but i have seen the reboot “the monsters are on maple street” starring andrew mccarthy. the reboot replaces the commie scare with post-2001 terrorism. it’s a pretty great twilight zone episode.
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