‘Trigger Warning’ Review: Supersoldier Jessica Alba Wages War on Domestic Criminals in Slick but Contrived Melodrama

Jessica Alba unleashes her inner Rambo in “Trigger Warning,” wherein her active U.S. military officer gets pulled homeward by tragedy, only to uncover corruption she’ll have to clean up before leaving again. Indonesian director Mouly Surya’s well-crafted first English-language feature is too formulaically contrived to qualify as “elevated genre” or to boast the personal stamp of her prior work. Still, it’s an entertaining, pacey action melodrama that should do well for Netflix, where it launches on June 21.

After two intriguingly conceived but somewhat vague initial features, Surya made an assertive impression with 2018’s “Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts.” That striking “feminist outlaw Western” distinctively juggled elements of revenge thriller, black comedy and character-driven social critique. Her more conventionally commercial American debut is another vengeance tale driven by a strong-willed, capable female protagonist. But this is also the first film on which Surya has not had a hand in the screenplay. The one she’s been handed (credited to “John Brancato & Josh Olson and Haley Gross”) offers a viable if familiar pileup of perilous complications that make for a comparatively impersonal end result.

We first meet Special Forces commando Parker Calvo (Alba) in Syria, where she and a driver are trying to outrun enemy fire in the desert. Their mission is left murky, but in any case she alone survives it, only to be informed that her father has just died Stateside. The bearer of that bad news is ex-beau Jesse (Mark Webber), now sheriff of their shared hometown Creation, N.M. Upon her return, however, that Biblical-sounding monicker proves ill-fit to current goings-on, which include a rash of strong-arm thefts. She fast suspects those crimes are connected to good-guy Jesse’s loutish bad-boy brother Elvis (Jake Weary). He’d have a long rap sheet already if not for the interventions of their father, political opportunist Sen. Ezekiel Swann (Anthony Michael Hall).

Popular on Variety

It doesn’t take long for Parker to suspect the death of her padre (Alejandro De Hoyos, seen in flashbacks) was neither the accident nor suicide Jesse suggests. A possibility of foul play grows stronger once she realizes Elvis and his goons are selling stolen military weapons — perhaps hiding them in the abandoned mineshafts that were dad’s “favorite place,” and where he died in a questionable cave-in.

As our heroine’s sleuthing exposes more and more dirt, her few reliable allies include amiable local stoner Mikey (Gabriel Basso) and quick-witted Special Forces colleague Spider (Tone Bell). Those two male sidekicks are bright spots in a solid support cast here, though no one really gets the character-writing bandwidth (not even Hall, a creditably long way from “Sixteen Candles”) to render his role memorable.

Executive producer Alba was obviously attracted by Parker’s tough competence, which is lent a slightly gimmicky edge by her dad-fostered penchant for knives over artillery. The star throws herself into the frequent action, though fights aren’t always fully convincing — ditto explosions and other FX here, as well as Parker’s constant stumbling onto crime scenes, clues, incriminating conversations, etc. The script also flirts with points of political relevancy, from illegal doings on the “dark web” to immigration issues, albeit in a deliberately superficial, “Let’s not offend anyone” way. The closest it comes to going out on a limb is when reactionary fat cat Ezekiel is asked “Why are politicians such liars?,” an accusation that crosses all party lines.

Nonetheless, “Trigger Warning” is slick and eventful enough to maintain viewer engagement. Surya doesn’t exhibit any great flair for building suspense or staging violent set-pieces. Still, the film carries us along on sufficient narrative momentum, abetted by the visual polish contributed by cinematographer Zoe White and production designer Natasha Gerasimova. Less effective is Enis Rotthoff’s original score, which feels cut from a well-worn sonic cloth of standard action bombast.

Leave a Reply

Verified by MonsterInsights