MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Kidnap’ is a surprisingly engaging, mindless thrill ride

It's not high art, but with a brisk, thrilling premise and a wonderful performance from Halle Berry, this thriller fulfills everything it sets out to do in an insanely fun fashion

| August 5, 2017

The tale of Relativity Media is one that would send a shiver down the spine of anyone remotely familiar with the film industry in the past few years. While they found success as a co-financier and distributor in films like “Limitless” and “Immortals,” the start-up studio from producer Ryan Kavanaugh fell upon tough times in early 2015 after a string of box-office disappointments ending with “The Lazarus Effect.” Since then, Relativity Media has come in and out of bankruptcy for two years, clutching for dear life onto the few yet-to-be-released titles that could save them from extinction. At the time of their bankruptcy filing, the studio had four films scheduled for release, “Masterminds,” “The Disappointments Room,” “Before I Wake,” and “Kidnap.” When they re-emerged from bankruptcy for a brief period last summer, the studio shuffled the releases around and actually committed to releasing three during the last quarter of 2016, with “The Disappointments Room” hitting first in September under their Rogue brand, with “Masterminds” falling a few weeks later under the mainline Relativity branding. Meanwhile, “Kidnap” was slated for a December release under the mainline brand, with trailers released and everything. When “The Disappointments Room” failed to bring in even $2.5 million at the box-office and a dismal 0% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the studio rested its fate in “Masterminds,” which also debuted to mediocre reviews and poor box-office returns, leaving the studio no choice but to remove “Kidnap” from its release date. While the studio was intent on keeping their releases for later, the studio was forced to liquidate many assets, including the sale of “Kidnap” to Aviron Pictures (formerly Clarius Entertainment) for $3 million. The only thing left of Relativity Media lies in the fate of Mike Flanagan’s “Before I Wake,” which stars “Room” star Jacob Tremblay before “Room” ever came about. Whether or not the film ever sees release is unknown at the moment, but for now: “Kidnap” has finally reached theaters.

And it’s surprisingly engaging and very thrilling.

Karla Dyson (Halle Berry) is a single mom working a dead end job as a waitress at a local diner in New Orleans. Karla is also going through a divorce and custody battle with her husband over her only son, Frankie (Sage Correa). When Karla takes Frankie to a fair in a local park, she is horrified to find that while she stepped away for less than a minute, a pair of kidnappers have abducted Frankie, sending Karla on a chase to fight to save her son’s life.

“Kidnap” is exceedingly simple, and all the better because of it. While the film is quite hammy at times, this is a white-knuckle, non-stop thrill ride that makes the best of the straightforward plot and wonderful lead performance. Taking place in her Chrysler mini-van for most of the film, “Kidnap” rests solely on Berry’s shoulders, to which she handles it with ease and ferocity. It’s easy to forget how much I like Berry simply because she hasn’t been in any major movies in a few years (which will change with “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” in September). All Berry has to rely on is her sheer emotion and power she must keep up for the entirety of the runtime in finding her son. This is a performance that’s almost for the screenplay that fosters it, much like Idris Elba in “The Dark Tower,” but the difference is that “Kidnap” is only weak in its dialogue, not its plot. Berry, while in a guilty-pleasure genre film, reminds audiences why she was as notable as she was in the first place.

But there’s the gag that will bring “Kidnap” down for the typical, “sophisticated,” stuffy film critic moviegoer: “Kidnap” is basically a very high quality B-movie, one that finds its footing in a visceral sense rather than in a thematic one. This is a film that relies on audience sympathy and participation over anything, asking viewers to simply place themselves in Karla’s shoes to feel what she feels in the erratic, frantic moment. That being said, the actual dialogue in “Kidnap” does get quite cheesy at times, with Karla talking to herself to instill some sort of character development as the film goes on during the chase sequences. This also can be said for the editing at times too, with the film sometimes choosing some rather unsubtle ways of portraying a sense of urgency that more-or-less make the film feel more like a guilty pleasure than it should be. Still, “Kidnap” doesn’t seek to be high art, rather it seeks to be high entertainment, which it pulls off wonderfully.

If anything, “Kidnap” reminds me a lot more of films like “Buried,” “The Shallows” and “Panic Room” more than it does a typical genre thriller as its marketed as, simply because we’re confined so closely to Karla in her van as she chases the unknown kidnappers of her child in and around New Orleans. It’s a single-minded mission that takes no breaks to bring audiences out of the moment. The lack of flashbacks or back story as the film progresses makes the film feel far more break-neck and frantic than your average thriller, which makes “Kidnap” all the more engaging.

But I haven’t even gotten to the best part of “Kidnap” yet: it’s really freakin’ fun. This is a movie that hits the ground running and doesn’t stop until the last second, which creates for not only a thrilling experience for viewers, but one that is an absolute blast to watch. It’s not every day we get to see an Oscar-winning actress participate in a film this thrilling, clever and fun all at once. While it’s super straightforward, “Kidnap” does use Karla’s instincts as a mother to her advantage, creating for some quite clever ways of fighting for her sons life that I didn’t expect from a film like this. It’s something that still exists in the realm of a guilty-pleasure flick, but one that’s smarter than the trailer might lead more stuffy audiences to believe.

And once again, we’re here dealing with the MPAA being unfair to a film once again by giving “Kidnap” an R-rating. Not only is the violence in “Kidnap” not deserving of an R-rating, even PG-13 films releasing this weekend alongside “Kidnap,” like “The Dark Tower” have much worse violence in their lower-rated content. Typically, the MPAA finds themselves dealing harsh ratings to films with language and sex, but “Kidnap” is the rare occurrence of an overtly harsh rating on violence.

I haven’t had as much pure fun in a movie this summer as I did with “Kidnap,” and even if it is less sophisticated than other, bigger films in theaters right now, this is a film that knows exactly what it is, exactly what it’s attempting to achieve and does that exceedingly well without pretense or ego that makes this film so mindlessly enjoyable to watch. It’s a thrilling ride from start to finish that, while occasionally predictable, has enough curveballs up its sleeve to keep itself engaging and harrowing throughout. The screenplay might be quite clunky, but it’s Berry who powers through it to sell “Kidnap” for all its worth, and does so with a maternal ferocity that reminds me so much as to why Berry is such a respected actress in the first place, even if we haven’t seen her in some time. This isn’t a film that holds any subtext or pretends to be any smarter or grander than it is. “Kidnap” is a lean, mean, loud, ferocious, short, simple and sweet thriller that knows exactly what it is and how to make the absolute best of it, cheese and all.

3.5/5

Photo courtesy of Aviron Pictures

Directed by: Luis Prieto
Starring: Halle Berry, Sage Correa, Chris McGinn, Lew Temple, Dana Gourrier.
Runtime: 93 minutes
Rating: R for violence and peril.

Aviron Pictures presents, in association with Lotus Entertainment and Ingenious Media, a di B Pictures, Lotus Entertainment, 606 Films, Gold Star Films, Well Go USA and Rumble Entertainment production, “Kidnap”

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Film

Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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