“Kidnap” is a cheesy little thriller, an unapologetic B-movie and a clear attempt by Oscar-winner Halle Berry at having a “Taken” of her very own. And whether it’s despite or because of all that, “Kidnap” is the kind of breathlessly entertaining suspense romp that had normally staid film critics shouting at the screen.
Granted, for the first half of the movie, that shouting was because of the dopey and frequently downright dangerous decisions made by harried waitress Karla (Berry) in pursuit of her abducted son. By the second half, however, the audience was lustily rooting for her while also hoping for a very bad end for the very bad bad guys who had dared mess with Karla’s kid.
Berry won an Oscar for playing a waitress in “Monster’s Ball,” and one Academy Award later, she’s believable as a harried hash-slinger who has a close relationship with her young son Frankie (Sage Correa). The two are at a crowded park when Karla turns her back for just a second, but that’s long enough for parties unseen to whisk away with Frankie.
Karla sees him getting bundled into a car without license plates, and so she gives chase in her minivan, immediately dropping her smartphone in the parking lot. (Otherwise, there’d be no movie.) Ironic that we lost playwright Sam Shepard this week, because the screenplay by Knate Lee (“Cardboard Boxer”) spends so much time on the vehicular pursuit that “Kidnap” begins to resemble the endless chase script being written by one of the brothers in “True West.”
By the time, the kidnappers, with Karla in tow, make it deep into bayou country, the stage is set for a showdown outside of the cars, by which time Karla is taking no prisoners. One could argue that the film is fairly irresponsible, since it exploits every parent’s fear that their kids will suddenly be stolen by rednecks out of a Rob Zombie casting call, and since it justifies the endangerment of innocent bystanders by Karla’s reckless driving. But hey, the movie asks, what devoted mom could do anything else?
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Lee and director Luis Prieto (“Pusher”) tick off every avenue that might allow Karla to pass this burden off to the authorities. (One is reminded of the famous Hitchcock observation that people in the movies don’t turn to the police because it’s boring.) A police station bulletin board full of missing-children posters convinces Karla that saving Frankie is entirely on her shoulders, and a botched Amber Alert only confirms her doubts.
“Kidnap” constantly moves forward: even its one flashback is an auditory one, with the camera trained on Berry’s frantic expression as she hears a recording of one of the kidnappers sweetly talking Frankie into accompanying her to the parking lot. The early footage of Karla speeding through traffic in hot pursuit is somewhat garbled, but editor Avi Youabian (“The Walking Dead”) is on much surer footing once the movie takes us to country roads and, eventually, a creepy old house by a swamp.
Neither the score by Federico Jusid nor the acting of Chris McGinn and Lew Temple as the kidnappers contain an ounce of subtlety, but both the music and those villainous performances are completely effective. These are ham-fisted proceedings, but it’s very tasty ham.
This all may sound prosaic on paper, but between Berry’s committed performance and the film’s brisk cocktail of dread and adrenaline, “Kidnap” makes for a rousing, if ridiculous, ride.