‘Trigger Warning’ Review: Jessica Alba’s Special Ops Agent Is Tough, but Sitting Through Her Generic Thriller Is Tougher

The latest Netflix film is a bargain bin slog

Jessica Alba in "Trigger Warning" (Netflix)

Not so long ago, “straight-to-video” described a very specific kind of movie: one made so cheaply, it wasn’t worth the effort to send it into theaters.

Netflix changed all that, and “straight-to-streaming” is now just as likely to reflect a popular rom-com or prestige drama. But sometimes, a ‘90s-style B-movie—the kind you might have found in a Wal-Mart discount bin—slides in. “Trigger Warning,” which is on Netflix starting today, would fit perfectly in that bin.

Some B-movies, of course, are highly entertaining. This one, though, seems like it was as much of a slog to make as it is to watch. That said, lead Jessica Alba does expend some effort, carrying the whole thing almost entirely on her own as “Special Forces commando” Parker.

We first meet Parker in the desert, where she and her partner Spider (underused standout Tone Bell) are battling Syrian terrorists. But don’t get too invested: this has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the movie, which begins when Parker’s friend Jesse (Mark Webber) calls to say that her Pops (Alejandro De Hoyos) has died in a terrible accident.

Jesse is the sheriff of a fictional Western town called Creation, where both sanity and reality apparently go to die. Jesse’s cynically right-wing father, Ezekiel (Anthony Michael Hall), is an openly corrupt Senator running for re-election. Jesse’s brother, the ostentatiously-named Elvis (Jake Weary), is a racist lunatic dealing military-grade weapons to domestic terrorists on the dark web.

When Parker returns home for her father’s funeral, she swiftly senses something amiss. (You have to wake up pretty early to fool a Special Forces commando.) Did Pops really die in an accident? Or could the seemingly endless parade of aggressively violent sociopaths who run this otherwise empty town have had something to do with it? Regardless, they and their machine guns are no match for Parker and her trusty knife!

To give Parker her due, she not only bests these men single-handedly, she does it almost entirely in the dark. And though there’s some decent stunt work here, the action is really all there is — so why did director Mouly Surya choose to make everything so hard to see? Presumably, the idea was to inject some atmosphere into the otherwise-generic plot and setting (the film was shot in New Mexico, though you’d barely know it). Since so much takes place at night — or in underground caves, shuttered offices, and abandoned buildings — there are whole scenes in which we have to rely on Enis Rotthoff’s cheerfully bombastic score to guide us emotionally.

“Trigger Warning” has been in the works for nearly a decade, and it’s clear that screenwriters John Brancato, Josh Olson, and Halley Wegryn Gross have tried to update it. Alas, the lip service to contemporary politics doesn’t feel any more natural than a lineup of barely-sketched characters called Ghost, Spider and Elvis. Or an elite soldier who doesn’t answer to any chain of command, but simply stumbles into a terrorist plot overseen by a powerful politician and decides to solve it on her own. Or a cast that, for the most part, appears to be mentally cashing in the paycheck as they work.

As far as creative ambitions go, here’s a third reminder that the villain’s name is Elvis. If you can already hear a character say “has left the building,” your expectations are now appropriately established.

“Trigger Warning” is now streaming on Netflix.


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