KIDNAP (2017)

Kidnap is part of My Summer of Summer Movies, in which I am attempting to see and review every movie that opens (in Chicago) between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Read all about this ill-advised plan here

"This mother is becoming a problem," one of the bad guys says, towards the end of Luis Prieto's Kidnap. That's an understatement. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, the saying goes, but Kidnap proposes that a woman scorned has nothing on a pissed-off mom with a mini-van.

Cheap and ugly in both purpose and technique, Kidnap is an odd little movie, but I would not want you to assume that "odd" means "interesting." A deliberately visceral but disappointingly artless thriller about a mother chasing down her son's abductors, Kidnap plays out like a low-budget grindhouse flick for the soccer-mom set: its only goals are to exploit hysterical maternal fears and to flatter primal maternal power.

Set in Louisiana, Kidnap stars Halle Berry as Karla, a waitress who is mother to an adorable six-year old son named Frankie (Sage Correa). (That she is currently going through a divorce and custody battle is about the only other information we get about Karla, and that information ends up having no particular relevance to the story.) One day, in a crowded park, Karla turns her back on her child for a moment to take a call from her divorce attorney, and Frankie disappears. Searching desperately through the crowd, she finally spots him being dragged into a distinctive aquamarine Ford Mustang GT, and gives determined chase: first, preposterously, on foot, and then in her nondescript red mini-van.

Karla has naturally dropped her cellphone—a device that would have ended this movie, rather mercifully, in about 10 minutes—and is too terrified to let the conveniently recognizable car out of her sight. And so begins a frantic (but surprisingly dull) chase down the Louisiana highways, which occupies the bulk of Kidnap's running time. Karla has no concern for anyone else on the road—by my casual count she probably injures or kills about 47 innocent people in her reckless pursuit—and she also has no plan, to an extent that becomes unintentionally comic. (After the kidnappers threaten to throw Frankie from the car if she doesn't back off, she pulls off the highway for about 45 seconds before…getting back on the highway again and chasing them in the same stubborn, mindless fashion.) We are supposed have awe and admiration for Karla's ferocious, tenacious quest to recover her child—she's the Materminator!—but "relentless" and "stupid" is hardly an admirable combination.

And director Prieto has no gift for suspense, or visual storytelling, or even cinematic logic. (At one point Karla is supposed to be trailing the car unnoticed, which might be more believable if they weren't the only two vehicles on the road, and if Karla wasn't following them from about half a car's length back.) Kidnap really wants to be Steven Spielberg's Duel with the added emotional energy of a missing child drama: this is not the worst idea in the world, but it is an idea that would have required a director capable of making the sight of two cars chasing each other interestingKidnap, instead, draws all its tension from Ms. Berry's hysterically desperate performance: Berry is fine, but the Oscar-winner's presence here—in what is essentially a trumped-up Lifetime movie—is neither understandable nor sufficient to make the film worth seeing.

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