Open at your own risk.
Is Trois 2: Pandora's Box indicative of a neo-blaxploitation movement? Here we have a primarily African-American cast and a black director and producer, shooting an indie film on a very low budget, which then gets distributed by a major label. Sounds eerily familiar…
This court is happy to report that Trois 2 is on the right side of the law. It is no more or less exploitative than other erotic thrillers in its peer group. I appreciate it for being a black independent film made on black terms. Unfortunately, the equality extends to the stilted acting, melodramatic meanderings, and too-convoluted plot twists of its erotic thriller pedigree. All is not lost, however: see the Rebuttal Witnesses for a stunning twist!
Facts of the Case
When Tammy's husband is murdered while they are having sex in the shower, she is remanded to psychiatric treatment. Mia is her ultra-reserved therapist. Mia's life is emotionally unrewarding because her husband is so distant. Tammy's life was quite the opposite before her husband's untimely death: they had sex in restaurants and group sex in nightclubs. Thus, the two enter a strange dynamic where Tammy tries to convince Mia to open up and have more sex.
Emotional weight piles upon Mia, and she finds release in Pandora's Box, a hedonistic den of debauchery. There she meets the man she's been eyeing at the park, and they have sex. Flush with her regained femininity, Mia begins to take back some control…until she stumbles on a dark web of intrigue and lies that threatens to take everything away from her!
The tone of Trois 2: Pandora's Box is set early. A young and beautiful couple makes love on the stairs under the artificial blue tint that tells us it's nighttime. They move to the shower, continuing their passionate ministrations. But passion goes awry when we hear a slash and someone winds up dead. The killer runs away, but we have time to see his ninja mask.
White cops show up scratching their asses, cramming doughnuts into their pieholes with dumb looks on their faces. With wooden tones and gosh-durn awl-ful accents, they go over the facts of the case. It was at this point that I'd made up my mind: Trois 2 set its stake firmly in "campy, erotic B movie" territory. Heaven knows that black cinema has years of bad caricature to make up for, and I got a good laugh out of the switcheroo.
The B-movie vibe is reinforced by the picture quality. You know how some DVDs provide deleted scenes that aren't polished through post-production, looking grainy and jaggedy? The whole transfer is like that here. Moiré patterns erupt continuously, jaggies and compression artifacts run rampant, grain dominates. The problem is not with contrast, colors, or edge enhancement. The likely culprit is having both widescreen and full screen transfers on one disc with all the extras. There is steep compression at work here, which heightens the flaws of the low production cost.
With the tone established, Trois 2 unleashed a Pandora's Box of stunning plot twists, amazing role reversals, hidden agendas, and melodramatic confessions. Somewhere amidst this dizzying array of plot conventions, it dawned on me that Trois 2 was trying to be a serious, mind-bending psychological thriller like Basic Instinct.
It nearly succeeded. In retrospect, the plot is quite intricate. However, the acting is a series of one-notes that don't form a symphony: the poor victim who speaks in hushed tones that belie tremulous emotion; the smooth, seductive, thoroughly shady stranger; the reserved, repressed heroine; the disinterested workaholic husband; the wise confidant. Stereotypes can go a long way toward establishing a character, but give them something different to do occasionally.
That isn't my real issue with Trois 2. It all boils down to emphasis. Several times the plot took a hairpin curve and I kept going straight. For example, very early in the picture the female leads whisper briefly to each other. Apparently this small act was meant to signify a connection or intimacy between the two. I didn't feel that at all. I was under the impression that Tammy was harboring resentment towards Mia for a betrayal, which was given much more screen time. If you spend five minutes setting up a betrayal, you can't negate it with six seconds of whispering. Another example is the ballyhooed club Pandora's Box. They expend so much effort in hushed descriptions and cryptic references that we're supposed to feel awe and anticipation. However, the filmmakers had previously tipped their hand as to the nature of Pandora's Box, so the anticipation is deflated.
Another thing that bothered me was Tammy's character. She shifts from role to role like a chameleon, maintaining the same temper throughout. When she says she misses her husband, as she does numerous times, do we believe her? Are we supposed to? Do we care?
By the time I got to the last five chapters, I was so far ahead of the plot that I watched on autopilot. Perhaps it was due to foreshadowing, or maybe it is because I've seen Wild Things. The only thing missing was Bill Murray in a straw hat.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
And now for a stunning twist: the extras make this DVD better. The making of featurette is fun and authentic; two filmmakers, excited about making movies and sharing their enthusiasm with us. But the real gem is the commentary. Rob Hardy and Will Power have charm to spare, and it's obvious they enjoy their collaborations. I enjoyed the commentary track more than the film itself. Why?
They direct their complete attention to the film and what it took to get the film made. They give each scene its due, talking about rewards and challenges unique to that scene. They point out blunders, discuss alternate ideas, and give great tips for other filmmakers. And they do it all with the ease and grace of longtime friends. I could almost picture the two sitting in my living room joking about the film. There is very little dead space in the commentary, just reams of reflection and insight.
Adding to the extras goodness are subtitles in (count 'em) six different languages. Mighty impressive. Also impressive is the soundtrack; for an indie film, there are some fine sounds in this flick. I'm not sure if the 5.0 on the back was a misprint, because I didn't notice a lot of bass watching Trois 2. Maybe there is no LFE track. But the music was soothing and fitting.
It is hard to recommend purchase of a DVD just for a commentary track, but if an erotic film with flava seems at all your speed, pick this one up and give the commentary a whirl. I didn't find Trois 2 all that erotic, considering it was clearly inspired by Basic Instinct and Wild Things. The acting was ho-hum. Fortunately the filmmakers are entertaining enough to carry the film.
The cast is sentenced to two years of soft-core labor. Rob Hardy and Will Power are encouraged to make more indie films—we need some diversity in our DVD choices. Watch that you don't imitate the very same antics that offend you about white depictions of African Americans. Court is adjourned!
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Scales of Justice
• Director and Producer Commentary
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