I honestly did not know they made films like Kidnap anymore, and I say that with equal parts admiration and bewilderment. This is a low-stakes, no-frills, point-A-to-point-B crime thriller, taking inspiration from every parent’s worst nightmare, and pretty much nothing else. There are late-summer films that impress with how far beyond their B-movie calling they dare to go; Kidnap does exactly the job it came to do and clocks out, not particularly caring whether or not you remember it in an hour.
The most confusing aspect of Kidnap — a film that stretches logic on more than one occasion — is what Halle Berry is doing here. She’s credited as an executive producer, and a vast majority of the film’s run time is Berry behind the wheel of a car, talking to herself/us about what’s going through her mind and what she plans to do in a stream-of-consciousness fashion. I would find it credible if she also had a writing credit, as the actual script by Knate Lee (who really does spell his name that way and whose next project is X-Men: The New Mutants) can’t be more than 30 pages long.
Kidnap opens with home-video footage of the first six years of little Frankie’s (Sage Correa) life, set to a swell of tear-jerking music. It successfully establishes the idea that children are precious, they are loved by their parents, and it sucks to lose them, for anyone in the audience who needed a reminder. We then meet Frankie’s mother, the radiant Karla Dyson (Berry), who works, as all radiant single mothers must, at a diner. We see her deal with customers without breaking a sweat, establishing that she has good people skills, something that will almost certainly come in handy when the film becomes a two-hander between her and her steering wheel. After her shift, she and Frankie go to the park, and while she steps away to take a call from her custody attorney — they’re already trying to take away her baby! — her son disappears.
Luckily, Karla sees Frankie being pulled into a dingy cyan ’80s-era Mustang, a car which cuts a striking figure and might be the most compelling character in the film. She hops into her red Chrysler minivan (a close second) and begins a pursuit that lasts nearly the entire length of the film, with a couple breaks to stop by a police station and stake out a backwoods shack. Those who come into Kidnap expecting a gender-swapped Taken will be severely let down; it’s more like a reimagining of Fast and Furious if it was performed by realistically bad and boring drivers. That is not a bad premise in theory, but the rhythm of the film is all over the place, and doesn’t seem to have any other ideas. Every time Karla hops out of the car and we get excited that the film might take on a new texture — maybe some scrappy hand-to-hand combat, or maybe some daring cyberhacking — she gets back in within minutes.
Frankie’s kidnappers turn out to be nothing but two caricatures of vaguely meth-y swamp people, and that’s it — I’d say spoiler alert, but there’s nothing to spoil here: no dramatic irony, no big reveal as to what the crime was was really about. Karla’s vigilante instinct is what supposedly makes her worthy of a movie (“What a brave woman!” a news anchor can be heard saying in the film’s closing moments, in case we had fallen asleep), but there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before, done with more style and wit. The score, by Federico Jusid, is so treacly and pedestrian I almost had respect for its outright refusal to be creative, and the same goes for the rest of the film. Kidnap reaches its conclusion without us finding out if Karla gets to keep partial custody of Frankie, as if acknowledging that none of us really cared about those obligatory stakes in the first place. This is true filler cinema, with no reason to exist other than to pass time in the doldrums of summer.