There’s an extraneous word in the title of the thriller “The Girl is in Trouble.” The moment we meet the sexy, calculating Swede Signe (Alicja Bachleda), we know the girl IS trouble.
But co-writer/director Julius Onah’s clever genre film never lets us off the hook with a simple femme fatale moment. Because we’ve seen, in the film’s opening, what she saw — a man, covered in blood, strangling another man.
It’s a scene Signe had the presence of mind to record on her cell phone. And even that act suggests that this blunt blonde, on the run, ready to hide out in the bed of a casual pick-up if need be, is playing the angles, leaning on her assets — maybe to survive, maybe to escape justice, perhaps to profit.
August (Columbus Short) is the woman-weary DJ wannabe whom she draws into her problems. It’s his bed she ends up in and his voice that narrates the story.
“It’s the real to see death lying right in front of you,” he growls. August is involved because he recognizes the guys in the video, which he stumbles into by searching through Signe’s phone. And when the dead man’s brother, Angel, shows up asking questions, August lies. Bad move.
Wilmer Valderrama utterly reinvents himself here as Angel, a hard man trying to keep his abuela (grandmother, Miriam Colon) from knowing what he does for a living, trying to keep his kid brother out of the business and trying to find that kid brother. He won’t be happy when he learns out August knows Jesus is dead. Short is flinty and spare and Bachleda a blend of desperate, cunning and hard to read.
The narration gets to be a bit much, filling in backstory and such.
“She always thought fate would bring her to New York.”
But Onah uses his few NYC locations well, doles out the extreme violence sparingly and strings along a fairly suspenseful story that has the killer’s “fixer,” and Angel and Angel’s friends all looking for this woman, and August mystified as to why he’s helping her. She isn’t who she seems.
“The Girl is in Trouble,” that much is obvious. But so is the fact that the girl IS trouble. Why is the narrator always the last to know?
Cast: Columbus Short, Alicja Bachleda, Wilmer Valderrama, Jesse Spencer
Credits: Directed by Julius Onah, script by Julius Onah, Mayuran Tiruchelvam. An eOne release.
Running time: 1:34