Trauma Center was directed by Matt Eskandari (Survive the Night, Hard Kill), written by Paul Da Silva, and stars Nicky Whelan (Tragedy Girls, Neighbours), Texas Battle (Final Destination 3, Boggy Creek), Tito Ortiz (Robotapocalypse, Silencer), Bruce Willis (Death Wish, American Siege), Catherine Davis (Run Hide Fight, Code Name Banshee), and Tyler Jon Olson (Escape Plan 2: Hades, Out of Death). It’s about a wounded witness to police corruption trying to survive their efforts to silence her.
The Plot: Movies about corrupt police forces are probably just as common as those that keep them on the straight and narrow. Da Silva keeps the basics of the former in play but confines the movie largely to a single location, making it lean and mean while doling out common conceits.
In Puerto Rico, dirty cops Tull (Battle) and Pierce (Ortiz) have just killed a snitch, but not before he could send a message to Detective Martin (Olson) to have a meeting regarding their criminal behaviour. He tries to reach out to Lt. Wakes (Willis) to wait at the location, but he declines. While Wakes goes to the place where the message was sent from, Martin goes to the spot, only to be gunned down by the corrupt officers.
In the crossfire of the murder is Madison (Whelan), who’s wounded with a police-issued round that can be traced to Tull and Pierce. This is the one fun idea that the plot has going for it, instead of having a flash drive or documents, Madison’s whole person is required to tell the tale.
Friendly forces arrive in time to scare off the would-be silencers and Wakes gets Madison to the trauma center in the same hospital that her sister Emily (Davis) had been admitted to earlier that night, although Madison is kept in a closed ward. Small world. Needing answers, Wakes sets Madison up with an armed officer outside her room and leaves for the night.
It does feel like a bit of a stretch to have only a single officer as a guard for the survivor of an unsolved murder of a detective, but the plot moves quickly enough. Tull and Pierce infiltrate the hospital to kill Madison and extract the bullet. It’s not that easy though, as she fights through the night while Wakes digs deeper into the corrupt web.
Just enough plot is present to make way for the game of cat and mouse. None of the reveals are original and, surprisingly, Emily isn’t integrated into the proceedings, but Trauma Center’s workmanlike script does what it needs to.
The Characters: Again, there’s nothing new in Trauma Center’s script. While some things could’ve been touched on like foreigners making do in a different country or the rampant law enforcement woes in said countries, the movie sticks to archetypes.
Madison has to act as a guardian to her younger sister (who’s only trait is being asthmatic) after the death of their mother. She’s so shaken up about whatever caused her death that she packed everything up and moved to San Juan, where she has to work two shifts at a cafe to make ends meet. Her personal life isn’t given much depth, but it has suffered from preoccupation. The older sister is fierce though, despite her willingness to be pushed around at her day job, she doesn’t hold back when her life is threatened.
Both of the bad cops are uninspired in terms of motive and attitude; they’re one-note bad guys out for whatever they can get. We don’t learn what set them on this path but it’s clear they just want to perpetually be involved in it. What we do know is that Tull is the brains of the duo, and Pierce is the brawn; made clear by some Luddite-tier moves from Pierce. The good cop of the bunch is equally slight, but there are some small bits of character like his move to Puerto Rico being born out of regret for his family life and his reluctant participation in card games.
Performances hold up Trauma Center’s flimsy characters; Whelan makes for an appealing and believable heroine, and Battle is a good foil. Ortiz fares worse though, unable to be anything other than unintentionally funny. Willis is alert here, giving a solid performance with touches of real emotion.
The Thrills: Da Silva’s script wears its priorities on its sleeve – it wants to excite – and to a moderate degree, Trauma Center does just that, even if it can repeat itself and strain logic in the process with some “why did/didn’t you do that!” moments.
The introduction to Tull and Pierce shows that they do not care who they have to kill or what they have to destroy in order to keep the ruse of being earnest law enforcement officers going. After killing a cop, they don’t let the loose ends go untied, as they make sure to kill Martin, but, in a rather boneheaded move from Pierce, wound Madison. Tull at least makes note of how short-sighted the shot was and comes up with a better plan to lock down the trauma center the witness is in with the help of the police force. It’s not an original play, but Eskandari directs the brutes well enough to make them a threat.
Survival situations in the hospital are pretty entertaining and force Madison to get creative in her diversions and assaults on the attackers. The gunshot wound to her leg slows her down physically, but not mentally. During her first encounter with the cops in the hospital, she pokes holes in their arguments that they’re here for her benefit, making the violence that ensues an inevitability, pumped up an extra level because the ward is cordoned off from everyone else. Madison does do the expected running and hiding, but other cool moments include the use of a defibrillator as a weapon and blood trail diversions.
Wakes’ investigation and return to the hospital are less engaging, with a bit of procedural work done at the crime scene that leads to a couple of obvious betrayals. All of the reveals surrounding motives are stock stuff, but these events do lead the lieutenant back to the hospital and get Willis involved in a couple of gunfights.
As far as pulse-pounding (get it?) moments go, Trauma Center has a small handful, but it’s largely familiar stuff being played out in a less familiar setting. No evolutions are made, but highlights are present.
The Technics: Eskandari knows how to handle this kind of material, and he does so with competence and a flourish or two that are different from other survival thrillers made on low to mid-level budgets like this one.
With cinematographer Bryan Koss (Fortress, Mope), the helmer shows a keen eye for visuals, using reduced power to the ward to turn off the lights and turn on an alarm, one that creates a sequence only intermittently lit by strobing revealing new positions for the characters involved. This, combined with a smokier atmosphere for exterior scenes and sterile bluish-white interiors, give Trauma Center a slight visual edge over the competition. Adding to this are the practical blood squibs, gunshots, and occasional makeup; they aren’t spectacular, but they show more care was put in here to make the movie as believable as possible.
Pacing is good here, with Trauma Center running a mere 87 minutes front to back. Everyone involved knows that this has been done before and tries to get in, entertain the viewer, and get out before the thinness of the material registers in audiences’ minds.
This kind of contained thriller needs either brevity or new ideas, and the makers of Trauma Center opt for the former. The plot and characters are flat, and the blips of violence can repeat themselves, but there are good moments and above-average construction at hand.
Trauma Center is available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital from Lionsgate. If you’re looking for more films like Trauma Center, FilmTagger has some suggestions.