The horrifying nightmare of a parent realizing that his or her child has been kidnapped is a dramatic plot device that has served as the inciting incident for plenty of popular films—Taken, Man on Fire, and Gone Baby Gone all come to mind. Unfortunately, the theme of child abduction is the only way that director Luis Prieto’s Kidnap can be compared to those superior thrillers. At least the main character, a single mom and waitress named Karla Dyson, is played with conviction by A-lister Halle Berry; with a less talented or less photogenic actress in the lead, this movie would have been little more than 82 brutal minutes of quickly cut, claustrophobic close-ups.
Halle Berry puts her timeless sex appeal on hold to dig deep into another hard-knock-life role, like those that won her critical acclaim in such films as Jungle Fever and Monster’s Ball. Watching Berry’s Karla lose her six-year old son Frankie (Sage Correa), and then lose her mind behind the wheel of her red Town and Country family vehicle, puts you in the driver seat of her ultimate fear. But the real crime here is that the plot crashes and burns its way up and down the highway with little new to offer the genre—aside from the refreshing change of having a female protagonist in pursuit.
You might be willing to excuse a few contrivances at first, like Karla accidentally dropping her cell phone in the beginning while chasing her son’s kidnappers on foot, or the fact that these predators are speeding around New Orleans in a car without a license plate. Let’s face it: If Karla had a cell phone to call the police and a license plate to report, this feature film would have been a ten-minute YouTube video. But what’s harder to accept is just how moronic the two abductors are. They are sick and crazy enough to snatch a petrified child in broad daylight—we get it. But then they throw everything from metal objects to spare tires out at Karla on a crowded highway, and even dangle the kid out during their dangerous joyride—as if camera phones weren’t a thing.
As this story of an avenging woman (with minimal backstory) charges full speed over every speed bump in its path, Karla gets smarter while these two backwoods buffoons get dumb and dumber. Why does their plan never seem like a plan…more like a random afterthought? In fairness, actress Chris McGinn carves a truly menacing character out of the handful of scenes in which we actually see more than the back of her head in a speeding green car. Her lumbering marauder Margo is like a mashup of the heartless Michael Myers from Halloween, the cruel Annie Wilkes from Misery, and the warped rustic killer Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But Margo’s partner Terry (Lew Temple) is a waste of screen time, as he gets little to do other than wear filthy clothes and fail at using a gun.
Actress Dana Gourrier, perhaps best known for her roles in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight, is unfortunately only given one scene as the first law-enforcement officer who acts on Karla’s kidnapping claim; apparently, there were no highway-patrol cops available anywhere during those long chase sequences full of countless car crashes and broken speed limits. Kidnap ultimately creates two looming fears in our hearts: that our children need constant protection, and that Halle Berry needs more movies that deserve her vast talent.