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KIDNAP (2017) review

August 3, 2017

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written by: Knate Gwaltney
produced by: Gregory Chou, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Erik Howsam, Joey Tufaro, Taylar Wesley & Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas
directed by: Luis Prieto
rated: R (for violence and peril)
runtime: 95 min.
U.S. release date: August 4, 2017

 

After the release of “The Call” back in 2013, Halle Berry spent the following year around New Orleans filming another thriller, hoping to repeat that movie’s surprising and unexpected box office success. “Kidnap” was filmed during the last two months of 2014 and, supposedly due to the financial woes of Relativity Pictures, the movie blew past four release dates in 2015 and 2016, as well as a release date this past March that didn’t pan out. Another distributor, Aviron, acquired the movie and decided to drop it in August of this year (because next January is too far away). All of this drama usually indicates the movie involved is a dud and that would be the case with “Kidnap” – with a lame tagline like “Vengeance is a Mother”, what do you expect?

Berry plays Karla Dyson, a harried single mother whose world revolves around her precocious six-year-old son, Frankie (Sage Correa, making his feature-length debut). If that right there sounds familiar, check out what else we learn within the first ten minutes of “Kidnap”. Karla’s also a waitress at a diner, who one day wants to leave her shift on time to take her her curly-haired son (who contently sits at the counter waiting for his mom) to the park, but it doesn’t look like any of her co-workers will be showing up on time to relieve her. On top of that stressor, the tables she’s currently serving are filled with arrogant and entitled white people – oh, the humanity!

Once she’s relieved of her apron, Karla makes her way to the park – wait a minute – cut to an overhead scene of a mini-amusement park – hold on, I thought she said she was taking little Frankie to a park…this is a giant carnival! No build up for that location? Usually kids are excited that they’re going to a place with carousels and Ferris wheels! It would make sense to include such anticipation, even just for one scene. Not this kid and not this movie, apparently.

 

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Another trope is checked off when we see the disappointment on Frankie’s face when his mom tells him his father won’t be joining them at “the park”. Yes, that old bit. The tired absentee father storyline is so old hat it doesn’t even fit anymore. Such a plot device would feel dated ten years ago. I know recently separated and/or divorced father friends who are actively involved in their children’s lives, who are making the most out of their situation as amicably as they can. I’d prefer that screenwriter Knate Gwaltney not even mention that the kid has a dad if he’s going to resort to such a overused approach.

Since we know the kidnapping is going to happen soon (actually, not soon enough considering the grating cliches we’re subjected to), it’s clear this is the location where we say goodbye to Frankie and watch as Berry goes from zero-to-sixty in panic mode. You seem the problem with “Kidnap” is that all of this is easy to predict, making none of it all that terrifying or immersive. Sure enough, Karla loses Frankie when she takes her eyes off him while preoccupied with a phone call from a divorce attorney – this is where we get the “What? Full custody!” plot point dropped on us – as if there aren’t enough cliche elements to check off. Add to that the fact that the battery on her cell phone is running low and we know that once her boy is abducted that (literal and figurative) device will be unavailable.

 

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When the actual kidnapping is shown, it’s as helpless and horrifying a sequence as you’d imagine, primarily because viewers will be playing out a full-on “what would I do in this situation?” in their mind. That’s the goal and it’s effectively done with panicky camerawork form cinematographer Flavio Martinez Labiano (“Unknown” and “The Shallows”) that jitters and spins.

Karla has taken her eyes off her child for what she probably seemed to her to be a few seconds and he’s gone – one of a handful of ‘worst nightmare’ situations for parents. Berry convincingly builds into panic mode, when she spots a burly white woman shoving Frankie into the backseat of an old beater in a nearby parking lot. Racing to her own vehicle (conveniently dropping her phone to further assist the plot), Karla peels into an extended chase that is…well, kind of eye-rolling and quite boring. I couldn’t help but wonder why Berry’s Karla isn’t more hysterical than she was in these scenes. I know I would be gong nuts, crying and screaming with the pedal to the metal. Karla is definitely speeding, as she tries to maneuver through the Louisiana highways in order to catch up to Frankie, but after a while she starts to monologue, keeping a tally of criminal details for the screenplay’s sake and in an effort to self-calm herself, but it gets ridiculous when she resorts to, “Dear God, I know I never pray…”, which is par for the course in a movie that’s riddled with cliche elements.

For no apparent reason, the roadways seem to clear as the chase continues, lessening the intensity of the situation. You would think the opposite would occur, that there’d more and more vehicles and obstacles adding to the heightened sense of panic and confusion. Nope. There are scenes where the mini-van and the beater are the only vehicles on the road. Ho-hum.

More egregious is how Karla becomes this action heroine in the second half of the film. After making incredulous moves and flat-out dumb decisions (a couple are understandable in such a scenario, but this gets outta hand), she eventually turns into a gun-toting lioness savior.  None of this ridiculousness matters, since the audience at the screening I attended were hooting and hollering at the screen, cheering on Berry as she gets in more superheroing then she ever did as a member of the X-Men.

 

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Besides all the cliches that “Kidnap” concurrently spins, the other big problem is the characterization and portrayal of the abductors. In a movie like this, the abductors should feel threatening – maybe even clever, like they know what’s what – not what seems like a couple of bumbling bayou extras. During an attempt at a standoff scene, the driver (Lew Temple “The Walking Dead”) of the old Mustang Frankie is in gets out, walks a couple feet toward Karla’s mini-van (still a good distance away) and just stands there with a resting duh-face. That’s it. Doesn’t say a word. Margo (Chris McGinn, failing intensity), his accomplice has formidable size, but nothing going on between her ears. The more we see of these two the more we see that there’s literally nothing to them and therefore their threat level slows to a grinding halt. They’re simply added to the broad stroke depiction of stupid white people (not that they aren’t out there, but at least try not to be so heavy-handed in your presentation) that Gwaltney and Prieto are clearly aiming for.

While watching “Kidnap”, I found myself thinking of a lot of ways the movie could’ve been better. That’s never a good sign and it’s certainly not the ideal internal processing experience the filmmakers had in mind for the audience. Since it’s set in Lousiana, how cool would it have been to set the film within a year after Hurricane Katrina, when the area was still reeling from a natural disaster.  Maybe make Karla a younger mom with character flaws or an older, more out-of-shape mom – not the hot momma we think of when we see Berry. Making her character a bit more relatable could’ve definitely helped, even though the screenwriter tries by tacking on stereotypical cliches at Karla.

In a movie like this, it’s so obvious the kid isn’t gonna stay napped for long, so don’t expect any surprises.  If you’ve seen the trailer, you know Berry finds her boy. Since Gwaltney and Prieto don’t go out of their way to deliver anything different or new to this subgenre, so why do they bother? Are moviegoers really that set on sitting back and watching Berry go from harried single mom to a reckless, homicidal supermom, which hooting aloud and shouting at the screen?

Sadly, yes. “Kidnap” is a reminder that just because a movie like “The Call” did well financially, it doesn’t mean it’s a good movie, nor does it mean that something similar is worth revisiting. “The Call” also proves that “Kidnap” will find it’s audience regardless of what I have to say about it.

 

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RATING: *

 

 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. August 4, 2017 7:27 pm

    Such a shame to hear it doesn’t live up to the trailer! I don’t normally go and see thrillers but the trailer swayed me to put it on my TBW list.

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