Director: Luis Prieto
Cast: Halle Berry, Sage Correa, Chris McGinn, Lew Temple, Christopher Berry
MPAA Rating: (for violence and peril)
Running Time: 1:34
Release Date: 8/4/17
Review by Mark Dujsik | August 3, 2017
It's obvious that screenwriter Knate Lee started and ended his thought process for this plot with a gimmick. The gimmick of Kidnap is that a woman won't stop chasing the people who have abducted her son—no matter what happens, who tells her to stop, or how hopeless and/or illogical the pursuit may become.
The woman, named Karla (Halle Berry), spends a lot of the chase inside her minivan, following an older sports car that could still outrun or outmaneuver the van at any time. It does at times for the purposes of injecting some momentary suspense, but there's always something that keeps the two vehicles within a reasonable distance to each other.
Sometimes it's traffic, which conveniently disappears entirely from the streets of New Orleans whenever the story requires that the drivers of the two cars have a standoff or are at a stalemate of sorts. Sometimes it simply seems that the abductor is toying with our heroine. We never know for certain, since the driver is either unseen or silent when he does appear. The idea of him playing with her seems unlikely, since he and his partner do whatever they can to signal to the mother that they don't want her following them. This means pointing off to the side of the road with a finger or a knife, holding the knife to the son's throat, or threatening to dump the kid out of the speeding car to the road beneath (These moments are as manipulatively nasty as they sound).
When there are other cars on the road with the two vehicles, no one seems to notice any of this, because someone calling the cops would probably put a stop to it pretty quickly. That might be a justification as to why director Luis Prieto eventually eliminates traffic entirely. We can only buy so much disinterest or apathy from the population before it becomes unconvincing—and depressing.
Why doesn't Karla call the police herself? Well, while she's at the park with her son Fankie (Sage Correa), her phone's battery dies as she's talking with her divorce lawyer. While on the phone about her ex-husband seeking primary custody of the kid (a certainty after this), Frankie disappears. She tracks him down to the parking lot, where a woman (played by Chris McGinn) is forcing the 6-year-old boy into a car. The car speeds off, and Karla races to her van. The chase begins and doesn't really let up until the third act.
In the right hands, this premise could work as a genre exercise in non-stop momentum, devising clever ways to keep Karla in the car as necessary, finding opportunities to change up the constant chasing, and taking advantage of the multiple obstacles that would be inherent to a high-speed pursuit on crowded city streets, freeways, and highways. The first part is a wash, since Karla only stays in the car because the movie clearly wants her to (Prieto might use about 10 too many close-ups of pedals, the gear shift, and the speedometer). The third part is inconsistent, since—because the movie's budget to use other cars and extras seems to have run out at a certain point—we get all of those shots with the two cars on empty roads.
As for the second part, it's obvious that Lee wants to change things up a bit at times. There's a standoff in a field, where we finally get to see the man (played by Lew Temple) behind the wheel of the kidnappers' car (which leads to, not the first, but one of the more egregiously dumb moves on Karla's part). A motorcycle cop is introduced into the mix, and Karla makes a brief stop at a Sheriff's station, where she sees a bunch of missing posters of other kids, giving her the push to get back in her van. If you're wondering about the fuel required to drive this far for this long, don't worry: The movie sets up a low gas tank—long before it gets around to remembering that Karla's van has been almost out of gas for a quite a while.
There could be something to this material, just definitely not in the schlocky, overcompensating way that it's presented here. Prieto seems to think that tension and momentum come from rapidly cutting between shots without any semblance of coherence (There's a fight in the van that seems to defy the laws of physics, simply because we can't figure out who's where or doing what), and Kidnap alternates between laughably unsound and tackily exploitative.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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