D: Luis Prieto / 95m
Cast: Halle Berry, Sage Correa, Chris McGinn, Lew Temple
Karla Dyson (Berry) is separated from her husband, and has custody of their young son, Frankie (Correa). She works as a waitress in a diner, and is patient, courteous and respectful of even the most rude and obnoxious of customers. After a particularly horrendous shift where she’s the only waitress on duty, Karla is grateful to get out of work and take Frankie to a local park. There are rides and stalls and shows to see, and Frankie is keen to try them all, but Karla is on a budget, and so they end up watching one of the stage shows and eating ice cream. When Karla receives a call from her lawyer who tells her that her husband is suing for full custody of Frankie, two things happen in rapid succession: her phone runs out of charge, and her son goes missing. She searches the park, asks people if they’ve seen her son, and calls out his name. It’s only when she reaches the car park that she sees Frankie being bundled into a car by a woman (McGinn).
The car speeds off and in desperation, Karla gets in her own car and follows it. She loses her phone in the process, and in her attempt to keep the car in sight, is the cause of a couple of accidents. At first, the kidnapper’s car doesn’t try to outrun her, and even when it swerves off the freeway she still manages to catch up to it (it helps that the car is very distinctive, a green Eighties Mustang GT with no plates). The chase develops into a game of cat and mouse as the kidnapper tries to stop Karla from following her. But she perseveres, promising her son that she’ll never give up, even when it becomes clear that there are two kidnappers, a man (Temple) and a woman. Karla momentarily gains an advantage when she isolates the woman, but the man continues on, not stopping and eventually eluding her. When he’s involved in an accident and he’s forced to switch cars, Karla still keeps on his trail, and makes one last attempt to stop him before her car runs out of gas. He gets away though, only to return and try to kill her once and for all – and without Frankie in the car…
The abduction of a child is possibly the worst nightmare imaginable for most parents, and so you’d expect a thriller about exactly that scenario to be a tense, nerve-shredding experience that would give any parent the heebie-jeebies. After all, if it can happen to Halle Berry’s conscientious single mother, then it can happen to anyone, right? Well, probably not under these circumstances…
Sometimes the simplest of movie plots can mean the most rewarding of movies, and with its child in peril scenario plus mother in high-speed pursuit – Oh, wait, that’s only at the beginning, when the kidnappers are intent on getting out of the city and away from Karla’s dogged appearance in their rearview mirror. Once the city’s left behind, and there’s only the odd attempt to get Karla to stop following them, the movie settles into a predictable rhythm for the best part of an hour, and offers the viewer several shots of the kidnappers’ car being trailed by Karla’s red minivan across the highways and byways of the state of Louisiana, and all at a safe distance. These shots don’t add to the drama, they don’t add to the tension; in fact, they only serve as filler in a movie that could have easily got by without them. And it makes no sense that the kidnappers would let Karla follow them for so long (it’s a pursuit that seems to go on forever).
But this is nothing when compared with the crime against logic that the movie makes nearly all the way through: the whole car chase, with its occasional bursts of mayhem and damage and with its two distinctive vehicles not exactly difficult to spot, involves the police on just the one occasion. And even then it’s because Karla weaves her car from side to side as if drunk behind the wheel in order to attract the attention of a motorcycle cop (who is dispatched in one of the movie’s best stunts). The absence of police on the various roads the kidnappers and Karla travel on leads to something of a payoff, albeit an unfortunate one: arriving in a small town, Karla heads for the police station, only to find one lone deputy in attendance. Karla tells the deputy about the kidnapping, and the deputy responds by saying, “we can have a hundred cars out looking for them in an hour”. The irony is lost on Karla, but it won’t be lost on the viewer.
Of course, there’s a reason for Frankie’s abduction, and while some viewers might be forgiven for thinking it’s all to do with the husband and the custody battle, here it’s a little more unnerving, and offers clear parallels to abductions that happen in real life. It also allows Karla the chance for a showdown with the woman that ought to be more exciting than it actually is. But that’s the movie in a nutshell: it promises more than it can actually deliver, and it never fully exploits its simple premise. Plus it digs itself into several holes along the way, and comes up with ever more ridiculous solutions in order to keep the movie plugging away until Karla’s eventual arrival at the kidnappers’ home (e.g. the satnav that conveniently tells her she’s only a couple of miles away when she has to travel on foot).
Now, any movie where disbelief has to be suspended regularly in order for the action to continue, isn’t working to the best of its abilities. Knate Lee’s script has the feel of a screenplay that’s undergone revisions during shooting, and while this is entirely common within the industry, what it does mean is that the finished product has to work extra hard in order to remain as effective as originally planned. The sense here is that Lee had a number of set pieces in mind for the movie, but as for the stuff in between, well let’s just say it needed a lot more work. Karla’s motivation is obvious, but she makes a number of decisions that work against that motivation, and the script falls back on her determination to keep chasing the kidnappers long after she’s identified the Mustang and could have called it into the police, as a means of justifying those decisions.
Where the movie does score highly is with its action sequences, which are confidently handled by director Luis Prieto and expertly pieced together by editor Avi Youabian. Karla vs the man is a particular highlight, and there’s a stomach churning hit and run that stays in the memory (it really looks as if the stuntwoman got hurt), but while these sequences stop the movie from looking and sounding unappealing and dull, this is still, ultimately, a thriller that only thrills in fits and starts. Berry shows off her angry face to ever-decreasing effect, but does make Karla a sympathetic character for the viewer to cheer on, even if she’s not always the brightest mother on the planet. As the villains of the piece, McGinn and Temple are nasty enough without being unavoidably psychotic, and Correa is a cute if low-key presence (and even cuter in the real life footage of him as a baby and growing up that opens the movie).
Rating: 5/10 – a movie that could have been a lot worse, and should have been a lot better, Kidnap is a frustrating viewing experience because of all the risible moments that interfere with the simplicity of the basic idea; Berry is good value, the stunts elevate the material, Prieto exhibits a patience with the narrative that stands it all in good stead, but in the end, this is still less than the sum of its parts.