Jailbait takes place in Hollywood, the city of dreams. It opens with one of those long treks down Hollywood Boulevard that should be familiar to anyone who has seen a direct-to-video 90s film. Street performers try to cheat tourists out of their cash. Hookers look for customers. Pimps look for new girls. Vice cops look over the scene and say, “I’m too old for shit.” A Greyhound bus pulls into the station and the city’s newest inhabitant, 17 year-old Kyle Bradley (Renee Humphrey), steps off.
Kyle’s from Nebraska and she’s come to Los Angeles because she wants to be a professional dancer. By the standards of Nebraska, Kyle may be streetwise but she soon discovers that nothing is easy in Hollywood. She wants to find her half-sister, Merci (Krista Errickson) but Merci is nowhere to be found. Soon, Kyle is living on the streets, stealing food to survive and faking a heroin addiction to get a bed at the local rehab center.
What Kyle doesn’t know is that Merci is a high-class hooker. After one of her clients is murdered, Merci is framed for the crime. Merci’s on the run, though she still finds time to sing in a band. Heading up the investigation into the crime is Sergeant Lee Teffler (C. Thomas Howell). Teffler thinks that Merci’s innocent and believes that the murder is connected to a human trafficking ring that is run by his childhood friend, Roman (David Laboisa). When he meets Kyle, he takes her back to his apartment to keep her safe. Teffler swears that nothing can happen between them because she’s only seventeen. Kyle says that age shouldn’t matter and, because this is a 90s Cinemax film, he decides that she has a point.
In the late 80s and 90s, there were a countless number of films about innocent girls getting corrupted as soon as they got off the bus in Hollywood and Jailbait is certainly one of them. Jailbait, however, is one of the better examples of the genre because, from the start, Kyle is tougher than the naive, aspiring starlets who usually populated these films. Though Hollywood turns out to be an even harsher place than she was expecting, Kyle still comes across like she can take care of herself. That she’s not portrayed as being a wide-eyed or easily manipulated innocent makes Kyle’s relationship with Teffler feel less problematic than it would be otherwise. All of the characters, not just Kyle, are written and performed with more depth than you would normally expect to find in a film like this. Teffler is not just a renegade cop and Roman is not just an evil pimp. Because of their former friendship, they are portrayed as being two sides of the same coin.
It also helps that Jailbait is better acted than the standard straight-to-video film, with Renee Humphrey and Krista Errickson bringing a lot of depth to their roles. Even C. Thomas Howell, who often seemed to be sleep walking in his 90s films, is effective as the conflicted Teffler. Visually, Jailbait does a good job of capturing the glitzy grime of Hollywood. Though it may not be as well-know, Jailbait is a worthy companion to films such as Angel and Vice Squad.