Everyone in Southern California starts out rude and impatient in The Trigger Effect. And that’s even before the power goes out, modern technology becomes useless, and a photogenic young couple find themselves doing completely unlaid-back things, like stealing and shooting guns. Taking inspiration for his feature-directing debut from the public-television science series Connections (which linked primitive discoveries with their modern-day consequences), screenwriter David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible) has come up with a refreshingly stimulating premise: One small glitch in our taken-for-granted modern lives could cause such far-reaching disruption that we might all end up not much better than cavepersons. And until he wraps things up much too neatly and idealistically, Koepp puts together a sturdy and efficient thriller, now being thrown away at a theater near you in the ash end of late-summer releases.
When the electricity blows, Matt (Kyle MacLachlan) and Annie (Elisabeth Shue) can’t get a prescription filled for their sick infant daughter, pushing Matt to desperate actions. Meanwhile, their friend Joe (Dermot Mulroney) stops by to report rumors of looting. So the men buy a gun. The discovery of an intruder in the house leads to catastrophe. Strangers (Michael Rooker from Cliffhanger and Richard T. Jones from TV’s NYPD Blue) have the potential to terrify. Animal distrust replaces human civility.
Shue — a pleasure to watch for her magnetically unactressy sexuality — retains some of her effective Leaving Las Vegas disoriented languidness, and her scenes with the equally charismatic Mulroney (Kansas City) have a nice, dangerous sizzle to them. (If MacLachlan fares less well, it may be because his acceleration rate from Twin Peaks deadpan to full emotional engagement always feels sluggish.) As a director, Koepp cuts and weaves nicely, layering one breakdown atop another, until — well, the until part is the problem. With one step further in a different, riskier direction, The Trigger Effect might have become a pocket-size apocalyptic tale, gloomy and invigorating. By taking the safe route, the writer-director retreats to well-lit, less interesting territory. Then again, he gets the movie released, doesn’t he? B