Release Date: August 4th, 2017 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Luis Prieto Actors: Halle Berry, Sage Correa, Chris McGinn, Lew Temple, Jason Winston George, Malea Rose
icking off with a montage of baby home videos, the film presents a nearly comical about-face when it transitions to the ominous title. With that opening, it’s difficult not to know exactly where the film is headed, regardless of familiarity with advertising materials or trailers. Fortunately, however, “Kidnap” doesn’t rely on all of the textbook scenarios for suspense thrillers alone … at least not until the climax and denouement begin to collapse upon themselves with an onslaught of cliches.
In Louisiana, Karla Dyson (Halle Berry) struggles to raise her 6-year-old son Frankie (Sage Correa) with her menial career as a waitress. But despite being forced to bring her child to the diner where she works, it would seem as if the patrons have lives even more hectic, disorganized, and exasperating than her own. Nonetheless, she finds time for fun. After her shift, she plans to take Frankie to the park where a large fair promises musical performances, ice cream, and face-painting.
Once in the park, she gets sidetracked by a phone call from her lawyer, revealing that she’s about to face the possibility of primary custody falling into the hands of her more accomplished, financially successful ex. While taking this call, Karla feels the need to turn away from her son rather than merely walking a few feet away while still staring in his direction. As the title guarantees, in the blink of an eye, the little boy disappears.
In the first of many twists, the protagonist actually sees the kidnapper and identifies the getaway vehicle. Whereas many Hitchcockian thrillers rely on the unknown, allowing the audience and the characters to sweat over who might have had a motive, if the victim is still alive, or if the accuser even had a child in the first place, “Kidnap” instead reveals all the actions necessary to deduce what is happening. In a further twist, Karla gives chase, following the baby-snatchers through parking lots and across highways, hoping to thwart their flight by drawing police attention to the rambunctious pursuit.
“Somebody has to know this is happening!” While the initial setup isn’t bad – provided that viewers can get past the unlikeliness of Karla neglecting the kid (and the very generically sentimental ways in which she interacts with him, as if stressing her love for the sake of skeptical onlookers) – the film doesn’t really know where to go from there. A few more unconventional activities take place, including a sequence or two that ratchet up the suspense rather admirably, but it’s not long before needless narrative designs get in the way of the flow. Karla talks to herself to reiterate little details, like red light cameras, police movements, and why she makes specific decisions, even though they have no impact on the end results (or when the end result is simply what she plotted out verbally). Clearly, “Kidnap” doesn’t think too highly of its audience. Plus, many of the character development tidbits and additives (there aren’t any real subplots to speak of) wind up completely unresolved.
“Wherever you go, I’ll be right behind you. No matter what.” Cracking comments like Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills from “Taken” gives Karla an edge not often found from mothers of kidnap victims, which is an amusing angle for a tough leading lady. But as the film progresses, her formidability grows more and more unimportant. Extreme coincidences topped with unconvincing contrivances continue to add up until the finale, which, though filled with nerve-jangling moments (or entirely expected horror tropes), comes across as an action movie showdown rather than a fitting end to realistic criminal endeavors. “Kidnap” may deserve credit for several of its storyline decisions early on, but its accomplishments in that arena are swiftly defeated by its own lack of direction on where to take this harrowing exercise on a classic what-would-you-do scenario.