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Lights Out for Society

Deana Newcomb

Shoot to Kyle: When the power fails, Matthew (Kyle MacLachlan) takes up arms to protect his family in "The Trigger Effect."

Class conflict in the dark fuels 'The Trigger Effect'

By Richard von Busack

THAT The Trigger Effect is a fantasy about class conflict distinguishes it right away. The movie opens with a downward spiral of rudeness. An extension cord at a shopping mall causes a person to trip and spill his drink on someone else's expensive suit; the enraged wearer of the suit bumps into another shopper. The initial event escalates into a near-violent confrontation in a movie theater.

When Annie (Elisabeth Shue) and Matthew (Kyle MacLachan) arrive home from the movies to a feverish baby, it's no surprise to see the fury spreading. In the distance, the lights of the entire city are winking off; a major power failure has begun. How major, we don't know, since director/writer David Koepp refuses to use that easy cliché of a newscaster giving us the scope of the trouble.

Joe (Dermot Mulroney), an old chum of Annie and Matthew's, shows up out of nowhere; he's challenging and insinuating--and the last person you'd want around your wife during a power failure. Mulroney is no one's idea of a nuanced actor, and you keep asking yourself, Who is this guy? Does he have something to do with the "checkered past" Annie keeps hinting at having?

Joe, who is more street smart than the white-collar Matthew, persuades him to go gun shopping. Later, after Matthew accidentally participates in the killing of a looter, they all decide to head to the mountains. Once out of the city, they are as vulnerable as the prey of the coyotes we see in the first images of the film.

The scenario is done in the vein of Rod Serling's more political horror. In fact, Koepp (who co-wrote Jurassic Park) is the nephew of Claude Akins, who starred in the well-known Twilight Zone episode "The Monsters Are Due at Maple Street" about how a power failure sets neighbor against neighbor.

The Trigger Effect isn't preachy, and it mulls over the side-effects of the breakdown. We see, for instance, the sportiveness of a young guy who encourages Matthew to shoplift, and who just as sportingly calls the store manager.

The problems of The Trigger Effect aren't due to the directing but to the writing. The vagueness of what causes the monumental outage is perfectly acceptable; the ambiguous hints about Annie's past aren't. The underwriting keeps Shue from getting a grip on her character. She's a housewife going mad in one scene and a contented mommy in the next. Matthew's relationship with Joe is less comprehensible, and thus the script starts to fall apart faster than the fabric of society.

The film is full of good ideas that aren't added up. At its best, though, The Trigger Effect proposes its social-breakdown disaster with seriousness and frightening plausibility, underscored in the film's best line. A cop investigating the killing of the looter is asked, "Is it bad out there?" The cop glances at the dead body and answers, coldly, "Out where?"

The Trigger Effect (R; 93 min.), directed and written by David Koepp, photographed by Newton Thomas Sigel and starring Kyle MacLachlan and Elisabeth Shue.

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From the September 5-11, 1996 issue of Metro

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