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Review: Kidnap (2017)

Kidnap (2017)

Directed by: Luis Prieto

Premise: Strangers abduct a boy from a public park. His mother (Halle Berry) pursues the abductors in her minivan.

What Works: Kidnap has a premise that is immediately grabbing. The loss of a child is one of those fears that penetrates deeply into the primitive areas of our psyche and the film exploits that fear successfully. The movie is appropriately stripped down. Kidnap runs a slender eighty-one minutes with most of that time dedicated to this parent’s pursuit of her abducted child. The film does just enough at the start to establish the mother and her son; she is a single parent working as a waitress and he is a well behaved and smart kid. The mother is going through a divorce and risks losing custody of her child. This is enough to put the audience on her side and invest viewers in the parent-child relationship. The movie quickly gets to the abduction and the chase and Kidnap has a credible scale. Much of the movie takes place on streets and highways with Halle Berry’s character pursuing the kidnapers in her minivan. Kidnap benefits from a practical production design. The fact that the chase takes place between a pair of conventional automobiles—instead of the sexy cars of a Michael Bay movie—enhances the immediacy of the premise. The automotive action of the movie appears to be done practically and although there are crashes and near misses, Kidnap is a far cry from the mayhem of Bad Boys II. During the chase the filmmakers keep the pressure on and Kidnap has stretches that are enjoyably intense.

What Doesn’t: If Kidnap seems familiar it is because Halle Berry made almost the same movie with 2013’s The Call. This film is different enough but the overall plot structure and especially the climax of Kidnap are remarkably similar to the earlier picture and it is both better and worse than The Call in various ways. Where The Call cast Halle Berry as a 9-1-1 operator, in Kidnap she is the victim’s parent and Kidnap puts Berry’s character into the action much more credibly. However, The Call was much more thoughtful and creative and was much better executed. Kidnap is sabotaged by clumsy exposition and a lack of directorial skill. Filmmaker Luis Prieto doesn’t demonstrate much flair for staging and filming the action and a lot of it doesn’t make sense. The set pieces are frequently awkward with the action framed in a way that doesn’t create a sense of continuity. Kidnap suffers from a lack of establishing shots and too often Prieto cuts to reactions of Berry’s character but it’s not clear what she is reacting to. Berry does a good job with the material she has to work with and for most of the movie she keeps herself in a state of panic. But the script saddles her with awkward exposition in which she talks to herself and states her thinking to the audience. It’s hokey and false and spoils the immediacy of the rest of the film. The premise of Kidnap is a good one but it doesn’t suggest a lot in the way of plot. It’s a chase movie and the filmmakers run out of ideas about halfway through. In order to keep the story going the filmmakers resort to contrived plot complications. Like Halle Berry’s expository dialogue, these plot twists are artificial and not in keeping with the rest of the movie. The clumsy plot twists are all the worse because the filmmakers force the mother to make stupid decisions. This detracts from Kidnap’s credibility and makes Berry’s character less likable. Kidnap also comes up short in its action set pieces. A movie like this is about the stunts. Just this year audiences have been treated to some incredible car action in movies like John Wick: Chapter 2, Atomic Blonde, and Baby Driver. Kidnap is nowhere near the level of those films.

Bottom Line: Kidnap is the kind of movie to be watched on cable on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Taken for what it is, Kidnap is sufficiently entertaining but it’s not very good. Halle Berry does everything she can to elevate the material but Kidnap is hobbled by a hackney’s script and a director who is incapable of staging an action sequence.

Episode: #661 (August 20, 2017)