Once again, a distributor chose to hold back a film from reviewers that turns out to be better than its peek-a-boo marketing strategy implied. That movie, “Traffik,” is an effective weekend-from-hell thriller with a vital message, a terrific lead performance by Paula Patton and some unexpectedly dimensional storytelling from writer-director Deon Taylor (“Meet the Blacks”).
Patton plays Brea, a conscientious Sacramento newspaper reporter whose style-over-substance editor (William Fichtner) has grown impatient with her deep investigative process and wants to let Brea go — on her birthday, no less.
Meanwhile, Brea is dating John (Omar Epps), a kind and attentive auto mechanic who’s planning to pop the question during a surprise getaway to a mansion in the mountains loaned to him by his longtime pal, Darren (Laz Alonso), an obnoxious sports agent with a fed-up girlfriend, Malia (Roselyn Sanchez).
But en route to their romantic escape, Brea and John have a nasty gas-station encounter with a hostile biker gang that, despite the mediating presence of a local sheriff’s deputy (Missi Pyle), does not bode well for the lovers. Brea’s unnerving bathroom encounter with a desperate-looking woman, Cara (Dawn Olivieri), will also come back to haunt her.