The title says it all. Kidnap is another entry in the overcrowded, snatched-in-broad-daylight genre of abducted-children thrillers that includes Taken, Ransom, The Deep End of the Ocean and Without a Trace, not to mention numerous episodes of “Law and Order: S.V.U.” This time it’s lovely Halle Berry as the distraught parent who turns her back for just a mo while her six-year-old son disappears. It’s familiar territory, but Berry pursues the perps undaunted, generating enough knuckle-cracking suspense to give you a migraine. No matter how much you scream, you can’t wait to see what happens next. Previews honk the warning, “You messed with the wrong mother,” and they’re not kidding.
The star won an Oscar in 2001 playing a harassed bayou-country waitress in Monster’s Ball. Now she returns to the same location, de-glamorized in bargain basement casuals and no makeup, as Louisiana divorcee and greasy-spoon waitress Karla Dyson. Karla is also a devoted single mom, who is playing in a crowded park with her son Frankie (Sage Correa) when she gets distracted by a call from her divorce lawyer about the ongoing custody battle with her ex-husband. When she turns back to check on the six-year-old, she sees him being carted away in a speeding red convertible. A high-speed chase ensues, in which she mixes shrieking hysterics with focused nerves of marble, as she plunges after the kidnappers like any grief-stricken mom in a kidnap flick would do if given the chance (and Berry’s salary). What makes this one different is the fact that it takes place almost entirely in moving vehicles. Karla throws her minivan into third gear and revs up the engine while she ratchets up the action—destroying public property and knocking down cops, pedestrians and anything that gets in her way. Crashing through fields and speeding down highways, freeways and back roads with reckless abandon, her adventure borders on the preposterous, but by the time she discovers who the villains are (a notorious child-trafficking ring operating out of an old farmhouse in a swamp near New Orleans, where Frankie is held captive with some other missing children) you find yourself cheering her on. The gas tank has been idling for so long that you begin to wonder how much mileage a minivan can still get from nothing more than high-octane good will.
The frenzied viewers at the packed screening I attended alternated between screams—shouting at Karla for dangerous decisions and reckless driving, then yelling for her to outwit the thugs and save the children. Karla is just too good to be true, but Halle Berry’s committed performance and the pulsating direction by Luis Prieto optimize the tension, and Knate Lee’s screenplay provides enough hair-raising twists and heart-stopping shocks to guarantee there is no shortage of thrills. It all adds up to a film of raw terror that is never boring. Berry knows how to seize the center spot and hold on tight. In Kidnap, she gets quite an exhausting workout, and so does the audience.