Far from a definitive inquiry, Tricked provides yet another ugly and depressing portrait of the sex trade, which in a closing soundbite is dubbed “modern slavery” by President Obama. Directors John-Keith Wasson and Jane Wells make a convincing case that such a term is valid, using interviews with a variety of working girls, pimps, johns, psychologists, law-enforcement officials, and prosecutors to reveal the “world’s oldest profession” as a system predicated on, and driven by, exploitation of vulnerable women by predatory criminal men. All of those talking heads—save, naturally, for the pimps themselves—are articulate in not just their anger but also their despondence over a culture that looks the other way when it comes to sex trafficking. That shrugged-shoulder response, the film suggests, is rooted in the opinion articulated by one arrogant john named Hugh who, while proudly showing off his higher-education diplomas, states that he pays for sex (upwards of 50 times a year), “because I’m human.”
That sort of arrogant male entitlement is an underlying component of Tricked’s examination of prostitution, with pimps—including one idiot scumbug who goes by the nickname “Jello” because it’s short for “Magellan,” whom the pimp wrongly thinks was “a famous entrepreneur”—loudly proclaiming that they’re just “businessmen” supplying an in-demand product to customers. “Pussy is a commodity. It has to be in selling condition,” states pimp Robert Money while discussing why a pregnant girl is no good to him. Such callous statements refute the notion that pimps are really caring benefactors with their women’s best interests at heart, and call into question the related idea that prostitutes willingly choose and embrace their profession. Via the stories of Boston-area working girl Danielle as well as others who’ve escaped their underworld lives, the directors clearly lay out the tangle of need (for love, or acceptance, or protection) that compels women to fall for pimps’ seductions, and the regret and shame that then conspire to keep them in their place, and from testifying against those who put them there.
Still, despite its wealth of urgent footage, including clips of raids on pimps’ homes and arrests of johns that expose the seedy masculine desire and domination driving the sex trade, Tricked doesn’t have anything new or particularly eye-opening to say about its subject. In striving for an expansive perspective on their topic, Wasson and Wells fail to get below the surface of any of their particular tales, so that Danielle’s ordeal remains hazy (largely because details of her initial introduction into prostitution are skimmed over) and a Denver police officer’s failed attempts to help a young prostitute escape her drug-addicted pimp mother are never comprehensively explained. As a result, the film remains frustratingly shallow, so intent on moving from one point of interest to another—first the Boston streets, then the Vegas strip, then to psychologists’ analysis of motives and anxieties, then to the reactions of the women’s parents—that it ultimately finds itself capable of only delivering obvious (albeit necessary) truths.