Picks and Pans Review: Traffic

updated 02/02/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/02/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

USA (Mon.-Wed., Jan. 26-28, 9 p.m. ET)

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As you set out on this six-hour journey, expect Traffic to be heavy.

Like the 2000 movie of the same title, as well as the 1989 British miniseries Traffik, this well-acted three-part drama employs a multilevel narrative structure. The traffic here is not only in drugs but in illegal aliens and weapons of terrorism, and most of the story plays out in a moral gray area that's chilly and bleak.

Elias Koteas (The Thin Red Line) is strong and slightly mysterious as a DEA agent assigned to Afghanistan who is suspected of going over to the dark side when he forms an unexplained alliance with a heroin dealer (Ritchie Coster). Meanwhile, Koteas's wife (Mary McCormack) finds out their teenage son (Justin Chatwin) has been drawn into the Seattle drug scene by the wild girl next door (Jennifer Rae Westley).

On another track, a Chechnyan taxi driver in Seattle (Cliff Curtis) does a lot of lonely detective work to uncover why his wife and daughter died with other aliens smuggled onto a ship bound for the West Coast. Finally, an ambitious business-school graduate (Balthazar Getty, with a good performance in an underwritten role) lets his greed lead him into a position as financial adviser to a Chinese-American gangster (Nelson Lee).

The suspense gradually slackens after a taut first two hours, and you may find your interest level slipping just as the plot threads are coming together. A key revelation in Part 3 is sadly lacking in surprise. But the emerging threat of a shipment of smallpox virus should be enough to keep you hanging on.


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