If you want a child to be the face of the traffic in the worldwide sex slave trade, you could do worse than Persis Karen. An Indian girl with enormous, empathetic “anime eyes,” she plays Annika in the faith-based drama “Not Today,” which is about that trade — which has 27 million people in bondage, still, in 2013 — 150 years after the American Civil War.
Annika lives in Hyderabad with her father, Kiran (Walid Amini), a homeless puppetteer who promises to protect her and feed her. When she runs to him in fear that “today is the day” when he will have to sell her in order to feed her, and himself, his reassurance is unconvincing.
“Today is not that day.”
It’s an empty promise. An outcaste, he cannot even rely on hand-outs from the likes of spoiled rich kid Caden (Cody Welles) to save her.
“I will NOT take responsibility for your stupidity,” the drunken Caden shouts, in the middle of a hedonistic vacation with his “Hangover” pals. “Things are tough everywhere.”
But her face, those eyes, burn into him. After he sobers up, he resolves to do what he wouldn’t do that drunken night on the street — to help her, and her father.
The faith-based part of this drama is about Caden’s cell-phone conscience. His girlfriend Audy (Cassie Scerbo), mom (Shari Rigby) and stepdad (John Schneider) urge him on with prayers in between phone calls. Every time he hits a dead end, he calls. And they pray.
“After what I’ve seen today, prayer seems useless,” he gripes.
Writer-director Jon Van Dyke sends Caden on an odyssey through the slums of Hyderabad, through the world of human trafficking. It’s a slow-footed quest, father Kiran and concerned American Caden searching for a child-sized needle in a Subcontinent-wide haystack. Unlike the similar film on this cause, “Trade of Innocents,” this one lacks even the rudiments of a sense of cinematic urgency.
Where is the ticking clock, the parallel structure showing the fate Annika faces if they don’t beat the odds and find her?
A couple of moving, almost heartbreaking moments mixed into an hour and forty minute film, one that finishes with an overt appeal for action — the actors, out of character, pitching text numbers and websites — does not add up to a movie with the gravitas of the cause it’s pushing.
“Not Today” is a message, and a poster child, searching for a better movie to sell both in.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material
Cast: Cody Longo, Waid Amini, John Schneider, Persis Karen
Credits: Written and directed by Jon Van Dyke. An Ocean Ave. Entertainment release.
Running time: 1:58