Film Review – Kidnap
Kidnap (2017) aspires to be a B-movie thriller. All the elements are there: a threadbare plot, a charismatic lead, non stop energy, and a runtime that skips right past you if you’re not paying attention. In a way, I kind of admire it for simply being what it is and nothing more. You’re not going to get thought provoking themes or deep character development. The film (written by Knate Lee and directed by Luis Prieto) is structured with the sole purpose of filling your time with mindless entertainment. But it’s not grimy enough: it plays between exploitation and traditional action, and ends up being mostly generic.
The narrative’s driving force is the kidnapping and endangerment of innocent children. One day while visiting a local park, Karla (Halle Berry) turns away from her young son Frankie (Sage Correa) to take a phone call. When she turns back, Frankie is gone. Karla quickly realizes that he was taken, and sees the car he’s in speeding out of the parking lot. Without hesitation, Karla jumps into her minivan (while unfortunately dropping her cell phone) and follows after her son and his kidnappers.
Now if this were to happen in any other situation, the kid or the parent (or perhaps both) would end up dead. As funny as it is to see what’s essentially a soccer mom in a high-speed chase (if only there was a shot of a baby seat in the back of the minivan), logic would tell us that this premise would lead to some really bad results. Karla deserves credit for stopping at nothing to save her son – she thinks that if she waits, she’ll end up being one of those parents who’ll never see their lost child again. Fair enough, but by following the kidnappers she’s putting Frankie at even bigger risk. The narrative understands this, and we’re treated to a number of instances where the kidnappers open one of the doors to dangle the boy as a threat. Nothing like seeing children put into harm’s way to really boost the entertainment value!
Halle Berry does everything she can with what she’s given. Her performance is regulated mainly behind a steering wheel, and thus she relies on her facial expressions to keep us emotionally involved. Berry deserved better material than this. She’s fully capable of letting us know her thoughts through gesture and nuance. Unfortunately, the writing never allows her that opportunity. Karla gives a number of long, extended monologues that tell us repeatedly what we already know: that she’ll never stop until she has Frankie back. There’s even a point where she and the kidnappers stop on the side of the road just so Berry can give the big speech laying out all of her thoughts and feelings. And when she finally finishes, they go right back to the chase.
But it’s not just the writing that tries to keep the plot fresh. It’s difficult to maintain a chase for one scene let alone an entire movie, and so Prieto and his team layer a number of cinematic tricks in an attempt to keeps us engaged. One of these is the use of choppy, inconsistent editing. Avi Youabian cuts the footage as though unsure of what tone they are going for. At one moment, shots come at us in rapid order like a blockbuster. Next, Prieto and Youabian hold on a shot like something you’d see in an art house theater. When Karla fears that she’s about to crash into another vehicle, shots are interspersed with black screens in a random blinking effect. I suppose this is meant to signify the disjointed feeling you get when involved in an accident, but that idea is never fully conveyed. Later on, in the aftermath of an actual crash, a shot is held suggesting that the actor is actually in the car, but then it cuts away at the very last second. Why hold the shot for that long if it just ends with you cutting away?
I kept my descriptions of the story at a bare minimum because that’s exactly what it is. Even the plot summary over at the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) keeps things nice and simple: “A mother stops at nothing to recover her kidnapped son.” There are hints of a world beyond just what we see on screen. We realize Karla is going through a divorce, hence the reason she’s looking after Frankie all by herself. We also get clues telling us that this kidnapping is part of a bigger conspiracy. But all of that is meaningless and forgotten about in favor of the chase. The climax does try to switch things up by taking Karla and the bad guys out of their cars, but what happens are the basic mechanisms of your run of the mill thriller. There’s nothing here that’s different than what we would see in countless other movies just like it.
Kidnap is the kind of flick destined for the bargain bin, stuck between Sharknado 12 and Beverly Hills Chihuahua 8. I’m sure someday a group of friends will watch this over some alcohol and home made brownies – whether they enjoy the food more than movie will be anyone’s guess.