Told in the language of a reliable genre, the action thriller, Kidnap is a statement about the power of a mother’s love. Take her child and push her to the breaking point, the film tells us, and she will be as relentless and unstoppable as a masked killer in a slasher pic. I’m not going to make an argument for how plausible the events of this movie are, because the fact is that no argument can be made.
Nor am I going to defend some of the story’s less successful methods, most notably lines of dialogue both unnecessary and unconvincing. But given the ultimate message, and given the talent involved, I will go out on a limb and say that, in its own flawed way, the film works.
Halle Berry, who doubles as one of the producers, stars as Karlya Dyson, a recently-divorced single mom getting by as a waitress at a local Louisiana diner. Red herrings abound in the opening scenes of her working hard serving customers at several tables – the family with the son that wanted hash browns instead of bacon, the young blonde who can only complain about the state of the place and the total lack of foods she actually wants to eat, the blonde’s spineless boyfriend – but they do effectively establish Karlya as a woman who can handle a great deal of stress.
She manages to get off early and take her beloved six-year-old son Frankie (Sage Correa) to the park. The opening credit sequence, which intercuts home movies of Frankie growing from an infant to a toddler to the boy he is now, show just how much she loves him. While at the park, where a mini carnival is being held, Karlya is forced to take a phone call from her lawyer, who naturally informs her that her ex, never once seen, will be seeking full custody. This means that she has to step away from Frankie for a minute. When the call ends, she finds that Frankie isn’t where she left him. What’s worse, their private communique of her calling out “Marco!” and him responding “Polo!” suddenly stops working.
But then she catches it: Frankie is forcefully being pulled by a woman into a car. Pure instinct kicks in as Karlya gets in her minivan, follows the other car onto a highway, and engages in a pursuit that, given the maneuvers performed and the crashes they cause, would not have gone on for as long as it does. Certainly it wouldn’t have ended with neither car getting away from obstacles such as motorcycle cops, traffic jams, and news copters and simply continue going. Nevertheless, we’re again reminded that Karlya is an indomitable woman, that her love for her son is like a battery that keeps her going.
I will refrain from describing any more of the plot – which is fairly easy to figure out, even without actually seeing it unfold – and I won’t go into detail regarding Frankie’s kidnappers (Chris McGinn and Lew Temple), because, as far as the audience is concerned, their motives aren’t as important as the simple fact that they’ve done a terrible thing. Instead, I’ll take a minute to address some of the film’s more noticeable flaws and weaker methods. There was no need, for example, for Berry’s character to so blatantly spell out her state of mind and intended course of action. She’s given dialogue in which she talks to Frankie’s baby picture, with teeth-gritting lines like, “I’m right behind you, Frankie,” and, “I’m coming for you, baby.” Likewise, she has her moment of bargaining with God – which, of course, ends with her promising to never ask Him for anything ever again should He intervene on her behalf.
But just as there are traps the film falls into, so too are there traps it avoids. I assumed that the ending would hinge on an outlandish and impossible plot twist. Thankfully, my assumption was incorrect. I chalk that one up to seeing so many movies, which tends to wisen you to certain tricks. Likewise, I feared that Karlya’s efforts to save her son would go beyond trying to protect him and devolve into a sadistic bloodbath – a mother’s revenge for kidnapping her son. As the final act played out, my fears were put to rest. Kidnap isn’t about that. It’s about how strong and determined a mother can be when her child is threatened. The events of the film aren’t very likely, but maternal instincts are very much real, and so often go unappreciated.