Kidnap is the kind of movie that might be impressive as an entry in one of those 48-hour film competitions, or if we found out it was written by an 11-year-old and improvised in an afternoon. Walking out, I overheard a group of women joking that Halle Berry must’ve been making up her own dialogue. It really feels like that, like a hurried rough draft, more unparsed daydream than story. You know how Mark Wahlberg once said in an interview that if he’d been on that plane, 9/11 never would’ve happened? Kidnap is like that, but if someone had watched a particularly sensational episode of 48 Hours and thought to themselves “That’s not how it woulda went down if I was that mom!”
Halle Berry plays Karla Dyson, a Hollywood average (read: preposterously beautiful) single mom who waits tables at a diner — apparently the only job available to Hollywood average single moms. It’s sad, really. Karla takes her adorable post-toddler to the county fair in New Orleans, where they live, and, spoiler alert, he gets kidnapped. Karla sees her little boy being pulled into a crappy car by a pair of overweight Walmart rednecks, and we’re off on a bizarre road chase.
I say bizarre because the defining features of this chase are 1) being ridiculously overdirected, with seven different angles of Halle Berry driving a car cut together for some reason, and with junior-high-artsy canted angles on the exterior car shots, and 2) Halle Berry talking to herself. Halle Berry talking to herself may be this film’s most memorable feature, though not in a good way. She’s always coaching herself, but not saying anything interesting, like she’s surprised to be in this movie. (“What do I do, what do I do!” “I’m going around you, you son of a bitch!”) It’s relatable, because we are also surprised she is in this movie.
Now, if you were writing a film where Halle Berry’s little boy gets kidnapped by some Walmart rednecks, I would imagine the first hurdle would be coming up with a plausible reason why some Walmart rednecks might kidnap Halle Berry’s little boy. After all, if there’s one thing Hollywood rednecks (i.e., people with carefully disheveled hair who appear to occasionally eat carbs) rarely need, it’s more kids. Kidnap — directed by Pusher‘s Luis Prieto and scripted by Knate Lee, a former Jackass cameraman and director of the panned indie Cardboard Boxer — just sort of plows through that hurdle, circling the block a few times before leaving a note on it and skipping town.
Kidnap is being billed as a revenge thriller, so you might be able to predict some of what happens. Watching Halle Berry go all Liam Neeson in Taken might be a hook. (I mean not for me, but it’d be at least recognizable as a selling point.) But a big part of revenge movies’ appeal is that the protagonists are typically doers, strategic thinkers. They take extraordinary steps to get what they want, and part of the appeal is watching them methodically accomplish. By contrast, Halle Berry’s Karla Dyson tends to babble aimlessly to herself right up until the moment she makes a split-second decision that luckily works out — “Oh jeez! What do I do?” followed by bonking a bad guy on the head with a log. It really takes the thrill out of “thriller.”
Kidnap centers around an implausible act — a stranger danger kidnapping — and rather than work to make that act more plausible, it just sort of unravels, trying to compensate for a lack of suspense with extra camera angles and comically loud sound effects. There were a few moments where my entire screening audience laughed because of an excessively loud door unlocking. It’s barely a movie, both in terms of quality and quantity; by my count, it clocks in at around 80-85 minutes. Closest I can tell, producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura sold the rights to a movie starring Halle Berry in a Taken-style revenge thriller before there was a script. And, well, there still isn’t one.