Furious Action Thrillers: KIDNAP

Halle Berry’s three years old, still unreleased, film Kidnap was screened for a select group of journalists last week—yours truly among them. The challenge for Berry and Relativity Studios—the company that made the film, was the studio’s surprise bankruptcy filing. Consequently Kidnap has been scheduled and rescheduled for release three separate times over the past three years. Currently it’s still sitting on the shelf but slated for an August 2017 roll out. We’ll have to wait and see if that comes to pass. Either way, with the engaging trailer released more than ten months ago, it’s time for a review.

Berry plays beleaguered Louisiana waitress and newly single mom Karla Dyson. Although she works for tips and has to handle difficult customers, she’s a doting mother who values quality time with her six year old son Frankie (Sage Correa). Frankie is an adorable moppet; a glasses-wearing kid who likes to laugh, play with his tape recorder and, as it turns out, wander. There’s a message in Kidnap for parents: no matter what you tell your children, no matter what information has passed through their little heads, they remain first and foremost children: unformed, highly impressionable and in need of constant watch.

It’s a moment of distraction at an amusement park (Karla taking a call from her ex —you see, he wants full custody) that facilitates Frankie’s kidnap. In an instant, a savvy overweight and over-tattooed female named Margo (Chris McGinn) coaxes Frankie into her car: and the chase begins. As Karla succinctly puts it (talking to herself): “Let me tell you something: as long as my son is in that car, I will not stop. Wherever you go I will be right behind you.”

And she is. For the next 45-minutes (!) Berry essentially performs an elaborate, if distracted, monologue. Speeding along New Orleans’ myriad freeways and byways she does everything: cries, barters, shakes, prays, screams, contorts, and negotiates. She also—in frenzied pursuit of her son—causes collisions, pileups and spectacular mid-air vehicle flips. Cinematographer Flavio Martinez Labiano’s presentation is stellar and director Luis Prieto’s awareness of the prominent role that objects—in this case fast moving automobiles—play in our lives is pitch perfect. The cars in this film are like the human beings: varied, wary and unpredictable. They come from everywhere and they come all at once. The improvisational-style script is by Knate (Bad Grandpa) Lee.

Part Taken, part Speed and most definitely part Berry’s previous success The Call, Kidnap’s high-speed motor ride is riveting, emotionally charged and deftly executed. But the film could be better. The opening credit sequence—designed to make clear the mother/son connection, is heavy-handed and obtuse. Extensive “home footage” of children is a bore—and the four minute opening string of images accompanied by Berry’s cooing; Frankie as a baby, Frankie learning to ride a bike, Frankie at a birthday party—is at least three minutes too long.

Another challenge is Kidnap’s truncated and under-resolved final act: a whimper that stands in stark contrast to Berry’s howl. What exactly went on in the attic? Who is the mysterious neighbor? And, how did such extensive nefarious activity go unnoticed—and for how long?

It’ll be interesting to see how Kidnap is received. Berry is an Oscar-winning favorite; a performer who has retained both her otherworldly beauty and her beyond-the-call-of-duty acting chops. But her creative output following Monster’s Ball has been a decidedly mixed bag. She co-starred in the multi-million dollar X Men: Days of Future Past but also has Catwoman and Dark Tide (a film she made with former husband Oliver Martinez) on her resume.

However it plays out, and whenever Kidnap is finally released, Berry’s catalogue of strong, self-sufficient and determined women has a new headstrong comrade. As the current/working poster art makes crystal clear: “They messed with the wrong mother.” indeed!


Josiah Howard

Josiah Howard is the author of four books including “Blaxploitation Cinema: The Essential Reference Guide” (now in a fourth printing). His writing credits include articles for the American Library of Congress, The New York Times and Readers Digest. A veteran of more than one hundred radio broadcasts, Howard also lectures on cinema and is a frequent guest on entertainment news television.

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