Film Review: ‘Kidnap’

Kidnappers beware, or you’re liable to wind up needing to cope with an angry mother and her minivan — as only Halle Berry can play it.

“You took the wrong kid!” Halle Berry growls when she finally comes face-to-face with the creeps who abducted her 6-year-old kid in “Kidnap,” a good, effective 100-yard-dash of a thriller that’s as single-minded as the subject makes it sound. When she records the criminal offense to the local sheriff’s office, they tell her to wait. She studies the bulletin board full of absent children photos, some of whom disappeared more than 15 years ago, and her sight widen. “That’s what all these people have. They waited!” she says, and recover, she’s out the door and back pursuit of her kid.

The implication is that Berry’s character, Karla Dyson, isn’t like other parents, yet, why is “Kidnap” so powerful is that she behaves exactly the way you think you might under the same circumstances. Twelve minutes into the movie, someone nabs her child Frankie, snatching him from a recreation area and stuffing him in to the back again of a take down old Mustang, and from that moment in time on, Halle don’t stop. She’s a single-minded mama bear intent on protecting her cub, jumping when driving of her red minivan and speeding after the goons liable (Chris McGinn and Lew Temple, as menacing real human garbage).

Halle don’t stop when the Mustang veers from the highway. She just slams on the brakes, places the van in reverse and adjusts course, oblivious to the fact that she’s turned the interstate into a demolition derby behind her. Halle don’t stop when one of the kidnappers starts off unloading the trunk with obstacles — not even when, swerving to avoid the spare wheel they tossed into oncoming traffic, she directs a big-body SUV somersaulting later on.

There are even more egregious examples of unaware individuals and innocent pedestrians mauled during her hit-and-run recovery mission, but let’s be honest: If Frankie were your kid, you wouldn’t stop to provide aid to those unlucky enough to get in the way either. And yet, at some point, you’ve gotta surprise whether she’s actually doing more to endanger her child than to rescue him (the idea certainly occurs when the entranceway of the Mustang opens and its reckless drivers dangles him out of the moving vehicle).

Because director Luis Prieto spends just enough time demonstrating how much Frankie methods to his mom, who’s a working-class waitress struggling for shared custody as it is, we’re there with her throughout. Five years ago, Prieto oversaw an ultra-swanky remake of Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Pusher,” all neon lights and self-conscious camera steps, that looked the way the 1996 Danish crime film might possessed Refn managed to get today. By comparison, “Kidnap” may as well be an Italian neorealist film. Apart from a few CG-enhanced fly-over shots (which suggest news-chopper video footage of a law enforcement chase), the camera sticks near Karla, shaking enough to help make the action feel immediate without leaving us carsick.

Screenwriter Knate Lee has helpfully anticipated the most obvious logical questions people may have (like, why doesn’t she just use her cell phone, or how much gas does indeed she have in her container anyway?), rendering it harder than you might think for would-be hecklers to twist Halle’s ordeal into an object of ridicule. Without an ounce of fats on its 81-minute running time, we never learn enough about the character to reckon why guardianship might be in danger, but as enjoyed by Berry, the celebrity’ star persona fills in the blanks: She’s convincingly rough, yet humanly prone — a day to day hero pushed to super extremes, run by a formidable blend of adrenaline and maternal instinct. (Her offroad-ready minivan, on the other hand, can tax reliability at times, and frequent injections of the speedometer reveal her well below the velocity limit.)

The challenge of your film like “Kidnap” is to put followers in Karla’s mind, bypassing distractions to focus on the type of spur-of-the-moment decisions that might plausibly lead to getting Frankie back again. But presuming she actually manages to capture the Mustang, what does she hope to do then? Without providing too much away (though it’s hard to ruin what the movie leaves mostly to the creativeness anyways), the kidnappers aren’t buying a ransom. They answer to someone with deeper pouches and darker motives, which makes this a way scarier possibility: It means that when required into a nook, they’re not against eradicating Karla, or her boy, or anyone who gets in their way.

Karla doesn’t have an idea, but she can conform super fast, which makes her something of your real-world wonder woman — especially any moment one of the kidnappers dares to reach into or climb aboard her minivan. She’s the complete antithesis of the ambivalent parents observed in “Loveless,” a grim Russian art film that premiered at Cannes in which a divorcing couple fail to notice when their son goes lacking (although film critics are most likely the only real people who’d actually see both movies, which operate on other ends of the art-trash continuum). Still, it’s undeniably more engaging to view an almost real-time profile of a mom fighting to get back her boy than it is to ponder the conditions under which such a child might vanish unobserved.

How lucky that Karla was there to see the green Mustang departing the park! And exactly how unlucky for its motorists that they needed the wrong kid

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