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Kidnap is trashy, incompetent, insulting—and almost fun

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Kidnap is an asinine child-abduction thriller spliced with a touch of the early Steven Spielberg TV movie Duel, and the most likable thing about it is that it is utter, unabashed garbage. The plot goes like this: Halle Berry, who spends most of Kidnap pretending to furiously wheel a Chrysler minivan with her eyes peeled to meth-binge dimensions, is a diner waitress in the middle of a divorce; she goes to some kind of amusement park with her 6-year-old son; he is yanked right in front of her into a doubtlessly hick-owned 1980s teal Ford Mustang, complete with tinted windows, a leather hood bra, and rear plastic louvers; she gives chase. This pursuit—that is, most of the film—is a laugh riot, probably for the wrong reasons, as movies shot, directed, edited, acted, and written this poorly are rarer than one would think. (Consider the above grade an average of Kidnap’s merits as a piece of filmmaking, which are about an F, and its modest value as a thing that might be called “a good time.”) Really, it’s choppy and butt-ugly, mixing gratuitous and reliably incompetent automotive mayhem with Berry’s porno-orgasmic howls of gnashing over-reaction: “Oh god, oh god, oh god, oh god, oh god, oh god, they took my son.” The scene where she hops out of her van to run after the Mustang has to be one of the funniest movie moments of the year.


It really makes one appreciate the basic competence of The Call, another kidnapping thriller that Berry spent much of sitting down (is this a thing she’s into?), not to mention the deranged arty camp of the Jennifer Lopez vehicle The Boy Next Door, which similarly took a Lifetime Original scenario and ran it into the ground. But a more competently made movie would probably be too smart for this script. (It’s credited to Knate Lee, a longtime member of the Jackass crew, so maybe the stupidity is intentional.) This one truly tortures the premise, which is an already punishing exercise in maternal instinct by way of road rage. The kidnappers pounce while Berry’s character, Karla, is taking a call from a divorce attorney (think of the children!), and of course she immediately loses her phone as the chase starts, which means that she has to get her cute little boy back the old-fashioned way: by tailgating the diabolical Mustang down the roads and wetland causeways of the great, tax-break-friendly state of Louisiana. The villains (Chris McGinn, Lew Temple) are in it for the money—not ransom, but the lucrative black-market trade in elementary-school-age children briefly left alone in public places. The business with the soon-to-be-ex-husband—he’s a real estate agent who left Karla for a pediatrician—is unrelated, for those wondering.

There’s so much wreckage and pointless vehicular homicide on screen that at a certain point, one almost wants to tell the abductors that the kid just isn’t worth it. But then, Karla isn’t exactly a genius either. She’s a dumb protagonist for the ages, turning any sufficiently packed screening into one of those audience participation games where viewers shout suggestions or point out obvious blind spots that the movie then roundly ignores. The illogic pays off through instances of idiot-savant surrealism, of which there are enough to make it hard to pick a favorite. Is it the way Karla pats her van like a horse after it crashes into a tree? The moment when she pulls over and asks for information from an old-timey soda jerk, sweeping a small-town sidewalk in his apron and paper cap? The awful digital effect of her boy being dangled from the front of the Mustang? The fact that she thinks to remove her cardigan in the middle of a high-speed chase? The unacknowledged mangling (and likely death) of a highway patrolman in the first third of the movie? A rammed pedestrian who ends up airborne during the chase and lands seemingly headfirst on the sidewalk, but is then shown safely rubbing her leg like some schoolyard boo-boo? Some of these may seem unremarkable on their own, but strung together, the bad-fun-guffaw effect is cumulative.


The director of this trash is Luis Prieto, who did the pointless British remake of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher—a movie that had an ounce of style, mostly because it was doing its darnedest to copy Refn. In Kidnap, he’s maybe going for the relentless rat-tat-tat of late-period Tony Scott; there are some swirly camera movements, death-by-a-thousand-cuts sequences of cars flipping over, and even some fake flash frames added to an establishing shot to make it a little more Man On Fire. But Scott was a real gonzo stylist, and this movie mostly looks like a turd, filled with amateurish, off-putting dissolves and blurry, added-in-post zooms. The fact that it was shot by Flavio Labiano, the capable cinematographer of movies like Non-Stop and The Day Of The Beast, boggles the mind.