94 min., rated R.
Can a movie still be fun and effective without being particularly good? In the case of “Kidnap,” the answer is yes. With 2013’s “The Call” and now “Kidnap,” Halle Berry seems to be trying to get her own subgenre off the ground in which she plays a character who doesn’t need the police and takes matters into her own hands to rescue someone. This on-the-road abduction thriller is not even close to masterful as something like 1971’s Steven Spielberg-directed “Duel,” but it’s tight, legitimately tense and unrelentingly propulsive. Whittled down to the bare essentials and the fierce eyes of an Oscar-winning actress, “Kidnap” is a guilty pleasure without the guilt, a meat-and-potatoes kind of B-movie made for audiences to get their heart rates up and talk back to the screen. Nothing more and nothing less, it does exactly what it says on the tin.
The plot is so lean and no-nonsense that it would fit as a clue on a crossword puzzle. Single Louisiana mom Karla Dyson (Halle Berry) works as a diner waitress to put food on the table for herself and 6-year-old son Frankie (Sage Correa), but her ex wants full custody. One day, she leaves work to take Frankie to the park. When she turns her back not far from her preoccupied son to take a call from her lawyer, Frankie is gone. As Karla frantically makes her way around the park, calling his name and asking if anyone has seen him, she spots her son being pushed into a conspicuous teal Ford Mustang leaving the parking lot. Immediately, Karla kicks into action and gives chase to the white-trash kidnappers, vowing never to stop until she has Frankie back in her arms.
Opening with a series of home movies that show Frankie growing up from a baby, “Kidnap” is almost too cloyingly adorable at introducing the bond between mother and son. Once Frankie is abducted and plot contrivances lock into place—Karla’s phone dies and then falls out of her purse in the parking lot—the film slams its foot on the gas and rarely lets up. Director Luis Prieto (2012’s “Pusher”) works the audience to a fever pitch and mines high-stress tension, elevating an admittedly cheap, exploitative parent’s-worst-nightmare premise and cheesy, derivative material with Halle Berry’s one-woman show. Playing Karla as a badass mama bear trying to get her cub back single-handedly, Berry gives a forceful performance, gritting her teeth and turning on the hysterics with a believable urgency that never becomes laughable. It helps, too, because the film is mostly Berry behind the wheel of her indestructible red minivan and trying to stay on the vehicular tail of her son’s kidnappers, even if that means putting others' lives in danger. She sells every traumatized look and talking to herself, as well as a prayer monologue and a kick-ass line, “You took the wrong kid!” As a bonus, the actors playing despicable kidnappers Margo (Chris McGinn) and Terry (Lew Temple) are so well-cast that one can’t wait when they finally get their just desserts.
Grade: B -