The one good thing I’ll say about the child-abduction thriller KIDNAP is that the makers at least knew the film was so preposterous that it was wise to only let it run about 80 minutes. A minute longer and audiences might actually begin outright rebelling against it and throwing snacks at the screen. Halle Berry plays Karla Dyson, a waitress and divorced single mother who has primary custody of her young son Frankie (Sage Correa). The film makes it clear right at the top that she’s overworked, not particularly rich and that her ex- is on the verge of filing for more custody than she has. What it doesn’t make clear (but we sure as hell find out later) is that Karla can drive like a veteran stunt driver, and perform investigative work like a seasoned detective who is on the verge of retiring because she’s too old for this shit.
We’re only a few minutes into KIDNAP when cute little Frankie is snatched up at a playground while Karla is on the phone finding out the custody news from her lawyer. She’s lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a woman throwing her son into the back seat of an ominous-looking car and speeding away, with Karla in hot pursuit. We’ve all heard the stories (urban legends or not) about moms gaining super strength from an adrenaline rush and lifting a car off their pinned under child. KIDNAP is sort of like that but Karla is transformed into a professional tracker and driver, surviving all manner of accident and other physical abuses by the abductors (a lovely hillbilly couple played with subtlety and grace by Chris McGinn and Rob Zombie favorite Lew Temple).
Yes, Berry looks cool doing it, but she also leaves a wake of automobile destruction in her wake. Her FAST AND FURIOUS-esque, daredevil driving causes more third-party collateral accidents than I’ve ever seen. All I could think during the movie was that she was going to jail for a very long time, extenuating circumstances be damned. Director Luis Prieto (who helmed the PUSHER remake a few years ago), working from a screenplay by Knate Lee, is wise enough to realize that the car-chase stuff is the meat-and-potatoes of this movie. As human beings, we’re conditioned to cringe when two vehicles slam into each other, and that’s a big part of this movie. But the second Karla gets out of her car to track down the kidnapper’s home where they are holding her boy, something is lost. Or maybe it’s just that the second it gets quiet, we begin to realize how silly everything we’ve been watching actually is.
KIDNAP has a great deal wrong with it, beginning with Berry spending most of the film talking to herself in long, reasoned sentences while she’s in hot pursuit. As much as I appreciated the narration, it was unnecessary; surprisingly enough, I wasn’t having trouble figuring out her reasoning or the plot. The ultimate goal of the abductors seems a little far fetched, especially when you consider the presumed combined IQ of the kidnapping characters. The entire film takes place in just a few hours, which certainly adds to the immediacy of the story, but the drama is somewhat undercut by some truly unbelievable actions on the both sides of the character equation.
I actually liked Berry’s previous one-woman-show film, THE CALL, in which she played a 911 operator, but KIDNAP asked me to suspend my disbelief a little past my limits for too long. The crowd I saw it with seemed to get behind it, but they may have just given in easier than I was willing to. The movie is fear-mongering piece of filmmaking that is obvious, trite and a little gross, just for kicks.
There are so many better options out there. Choose any of them.