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Selling girls -- and cliches

Mira Sorvino goes undercover to bust up a sex-slavery ring in the sobering but trite 'Human Trafficking.'

October 24, 2005|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

In "Human Trafficking," a four-hour, two-part miniseries airing at 9 tonight and Tuesday on Lifetime, Mira Sorvino plays a New York City detective who joins U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to bust up a sex-slavery ring.

Eventually, Sorvino's tough-but-tender, tender-but-tough Kate will go undercover, posing as a Russian mail-order bride.

"Human Trafficking" is at once a sobering, tough-to-watch dramatization about girls taken from the streets of their hometowns around the world and sold into sexual servitude and a cliched drama about said topic; these twin aspects of the miniseries quickly begin to compete with each other, bouncing you back and forth between cringe-inducing scenes of abuse and the much slighter cringe of dialogue that'll fall back on a line like: "You've got a lot of skills, Kate, but acting isn't one of them."

That's Donald Sutherland, playing Kate's boss at ICE. Sutherland and Sorvino are the packaged stars of "Human Trafficking," but they seem, in a way, at a remove from the piece, not so much a part of the story as on hand to give the movie its Hollywood bona fides. Sorvino gets to handle a gun, cry, console a victim, reveal her own history of sexual abuse and stare down an oily lawyer. Yet, she still sort of floats through, while Sutherland drops in for quick briefings on the script.

The show's other big name is Robert Carlyle ("The Full Monty") as Sergei Karpovich, the evil Russian overseer of a wide operation that lures East European girls into sex slavery. Carlyle's accent is a bit difficult to locate, but his menace isn't as he surveys a new shipment of girls. He's doing some of the heavy lifting here, but most of the drama comes from the victims themselves.

The young women and girls whose terrifying fate we follow are characters, yes, but also representatives of a larger and usually well-hidden real-world story. (About 1 million people are trafficked every year across international borders, according to the film.) They include a single mother in Prague, an adolescent girl in Kiev, and a young American kidnapped in Manila while vacationing with her family. There is some satisfaction, and no shortage of taut dramatic moments, gleaned from watching the good guys catch up with the bad, but not that much, and "Human Trafficking," executive-produced by miniseries veteran Robert Halmi Sr., wants it this way. Unlike your garden-variety procedural, solving the case here is not solving the case -- it's just waking up the rest of us to the fact that there's a grave problem in the first place.


`Human Trafficking'

Where: Lifetime

When: Part 1, 9 tonight; Part 2, 9 p.m. Tuesday

Ratings: TV-14 LSV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for coarse language, sex and violence)

Mira Sorvino...Kate Morozov

Donald Sutherland...Bill Meehan

Robert Carlyle...Sergei Karpovich

Executive producer Robert Halmi Sr. Director Christian Duguay. Writer Agatha Dominik.

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