Halle Berry’s locally filmed thriller, “Kidnap,” arrives in theaters Friday. The Oscar-winning actress spends much of the movie’s brisk 82 minutes behind the wheel of a red minivan as single-mom Karla Dyson, racing over New Orleans area roads and bridges in ferocious pursuit of kidnappers who’ve abducted her son.
The devoted mother will stop at nothing to free her child. Ironically, Relativity Media’s bankruptcy filing in 2015 held the movie captive for years, preventing its release. The newly launched Aviron Pictures picked up “Kidnap” for distribution this year, designating it the company’s debut release.
Berry won an Academy Award for the previous film she shot in the New Orleans area, 2001’s arthouse hit, “Monster’s Ball.” “Kidnap” is quite another kind of movie. It has much in common with Berry’s 2013 thriller, “The Call,” another kidnapping story.
As exploitation movies go, “Kidnap” delivers in primal, audacious style. In June, at the film’s U.S. premiere in New Orleans during the Essence Festival, an enthusiastic house in the Orpheum Theater rolled with the movie’s high-speed chases.
Berry's Karla works as a diner waitress to support her herself and her son, 6-year-old Frankie (Sage Correa). Screenwriter Knate Lee builds sympathy for Karla through her spoiled customers and the rocky divorce proceedings she’s experiencing with her soon-to-be ex-husband. And Karla’s devotion to Frankie is quickly revealed during some early scenes.
An afternoon of fun in City Park turns terrifying when Karla, having momentarily turned her back on Frankie while answering a divorce-related phone call, turns around and sees the child is not where she left him.
Berry applies acting chops and motherly instincts to her role in “Kidnap.” Anxiety leaps in Karla as she reaches the parking lot just in time to see a woman forcing Frankie into a 1980s-era green Ford Mustang GT. In these desperate seconds, Karla loses her cell phone. Later, not having a phone makes Frankie’s rescue infinitely more difficult.
“Kidnap” is overwhelmingly a chase film. Karla trails the kidnappers’ car, as closely as she can, for as long as she can. The chase sequences stay tense despite their extensive length. Karla, speaking aloud in her speeding minivan, promises her son: “I’ll never let you go.”
The teeth gnashing Berry does during the marathon chase, meant to express Karla’s determination, is unintentionally comic. Her performance, and the film overall, could do without the gnashing closeups.
Director Luis Prieto, with a script by Knate Gwaltney, makes it clear how evil Frankie’s kidnappers are. Even from the distance of several car lengths, a few simple but threatening movements from an open window and car door make the risk Karla takes by following the kidnappers ominously clear.
While Berry makes the most of the nearly one-woman show, some supporting characters do pop up along the highways and bayous. New Orleans native Dana Gourrier makes a brief but significant appearance as the deputy sheriff Karla asks for help. Chris McGinn (“Orange is the New Black”) is textbook mean as the menacing kidnapper Margo. Also just right for his role is Lew Temple (“The Walking Dead,” “Unstoppable”) as Margo’s ruthless partner in child abduction, Terry. “Kidnap” isn’t technically a horror movie, but Margo and Terry are monsters in a parent’s worst nightmare.
The combination of Berry in the driver’s seat, playing a mom who summons strength and courage she never knew she had, and very bad people doing evil deeds, make the cheap thrills in “Kidnap” a hell of a ride.
STARRING: Halle Berry, Sage Correa, Chris McGinn, Lew Temple, Dana Gourrier, Christopher Berry
DIRECTOR: Luis Prieto
NOW SHOWING: In wide release.
RUNNING TIME: 1 hr., 40 mins.
MPAA RATING: R (Restricted) Under 17 requires accompanying parents or adult guardian.
WHY IS THIS MOVIE RATED R? for violence and peril.
Excellent (****), Good (***), Fair (**), Poor (*)