HOLLYWOOD — Columbia Pictures' thriller "Trapped," which centers on the abduction of an 8-year-old girl, has proved too close to real life for the studio's comfort. The movie opens today, only days after a San Diego jury recommended the death sentence for David Westerfield in the murder of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam, culminating what seemed like an endless summer of child kidnappings and murders.
In response to the news environment, the studio did an about-face on its initial ad campaign and adopted an unusual marketing strategy: imposing a media blackout and keeping its stars off the normal promotional circuit.
Billed as a thriller, "Trapped" stars Kevin Bacon and Courtney Love as kidnappers and Charlize Theron as the mother who defies the FBI and tries to save her daughter's life.
In an effort to throttle any chance of negative reviews or news reports, nervous studio executives kept film critics and media from seeing the film before its release. There was no press junket, and the studio asked its actors not to talk about the film.
"We didn't want Jay Leno looking at Kevin Bacon and saying, 'What the hell were you thinking in making a film like this right now?' " one studio insider said.
Columbia also restricted its ad spending to television and print, forgoing other media such as outdoor and radio.
Exhibitors who saw the film this month had mixed responses.
"It was an intense thriller with a really great payoff. It was a quality film," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations.
Some criticized the first 30 minutes, calling it "very intense." One noted that, as a parent, it was "disturbing" for him to watch.
And therein lies the problem.
When the initial trailer for "Trapped" appeared in mid-May, the kidnapping theme was a central component. It had clips of the little girl and statements from the abductors, such as, "Your daughter was kidnapped three hours ago," and "You're never going to see your kid again."
As the release date approached, TV commercials for "Trapped" — based on "24 Hours," by Greg Iles — did not include scenes with the little girl. Menacing statements from kidnappers were excised. The commercial now sells the thriller aspect of the film and only implies an abduction.
"It's really a parent-empowerment movie," said one person involved in the production of the film. "The woman is the hero."