Editor’s Note: Kidnap opens in wide theatrical release today, August 4, 2017.
Oscar-winner Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball) has played superheroes before, most notably Storm in the original X-Men series and the ill-fated Catwoman spinoff, but in Kidnap, a B-level, exploitation chase thriller and spiritual sequel to 2013’s The Call, that sat on studio shelves for three years while Relativity Media worked out its money woes (a new distributor eventually stepped in), Berry’s working-class character has a special, if by no means, unique superpower: Motherhood. As a waitress (points off for non-believability given Berry’s movie star appeal) who loses her son to kidnap-prone, backwater rednecks (welcome to Trump’s America), Berry gives an intensely committed, dedicated performance as a mother who’ll do anything, including driving recklessly, to save her son from his kidnappers. Berry certainly deserves credit for phoning in her performance (she also executive produced), but it’s difficult to watch Kidnap and not wonder why her career has taken a serious downturn after such a promising start more than two decades ago (the “two decades” part of the preceding sentence might offer an unfortunate clue).
Karla spends most of Kidnap’s brisk 85-minute running time (including credits) giving herself motivational speeches and driving like a working-class woman who’s only son has been kidnapped by irrational Trump voters angry at an increasingly diversifying America. Of course, the villains in Kidnap aren’t motivated by politics, but given their physical appearance (e.g., dirty, misshapen, unattractive), they might as well be.
Written by Knate Lee Gwaitney (X-Men: The New Mutants, Cardboard Boxer) and directed by Luis Prieto (the Pusher remake), Kidnap deserves a modest amount of credit for spending little time on backstory and exposition before turning Berry’s character, Karla Dyson, a single mother of one going through a nasty custody battle with her ex, loose on the unsuspecting white trash couple who kidnap her son, Frankie (Sage Correa), from a local park the moment Karla takes an all-important call from her attorney. When she completes the call 30-40 seconds later, Frankie’s gone. An increasingly desperate, panicked Karla runs around the fairground, calling out “Marco” to a “Polo, ” her son, who never answers. Before the villainous duo can escape with Frankie, however, Karla spots them in the parking lot pushing Frankie into an ‘80s-era Ford Mustang. Karla does what any mother in a B-movie, exploitation-level thriller would do: She jumps into her Chrysler minivan/death machine and gives pursuit.
On superficial level, Kidnap’s emphasis on speed, literally (on the road) and figuratively (story wise), delivers a fair number of jolts over its brief running time.
Karla spends most of Kidnap’s brisk 85-minute running time (including credits) giving herself motivational speeches and driving like a working-class woman who’s only son has been kidnapped by irrational Trump voters angry at an increasingly diversifying America. Of course, the villains in Kidnap aren’t motivated by politics, but given their physical appearance (e.g., dirty, misshapen, unattractive), they might as well be. Their motivation (money), though, suggests that there’s only one way up the socio-economic ladder in Trump’s America and that’s through circumventing a system built to favor the super-wealthy over everyone else (i.e., crime that not only pays, but pays lucratively). Given that Kidnap also plays into the urban-rural divide that also separates blue state America from red state America, it’s relatively easy to draw our own conclusions about where our loyalties should lie (i.e., Berry’s character and everything positive she represents about American women and motherhood).
Maybe that’s reading too much into a late-summer, throwaway thriller. Maybe not. On superficial level, Kidnap’s emphasis on speed, literally (on the road) and figuratively (story wise), delivers a fair number of jolts over its brief running time. Karla rarely leaves the increasingly battered minivan and when she does, it usually doesn’t end well for whomever she encounters. The slow-to-react and thus useless police put Karla in the position of going full-on vigilante in her red minivan. For a film involving an incredible amount of reckless driving on the highways and byways of Louisiana, though, Kidnap contains a surprisingly low amount of car-related carnage, probably more a function of Kidnap’s modest budget and less due to any narrative rationale or desire to avoid destroying too many cars. Prieto initially plays with the idea of the Duel-inspired Mustang as a menacing, standalone character (dark-tinted windows keep the kidnappers unseen or obscured), but eventually throws his hands in the air and gives up completely, opting to reveal the faces of the kidnappers before the midpoint, a decision that’s simultaneously understandable (moviegoers will have to see their faces eventually) and disappointing (less mystery means less suspense overall). Ultimately, even Berry’s A-level performance or contemporary relevance in Trump’s America can’t elevate a B-movie with a C-level plot, but for most of Kidnap’s running time, it almost doesn’t matter.
Hally Berry gives an A-level performance in Kidnap, a B-level movie with contemporary relevance and a C-level plot.