KidnapReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 08/04/17 04:02:54
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself revisiting some of the films of maverick writer-director Larry Cohen. For those of you who don’t recognize the name, his work, he specializes in coming up with movie concepts that are simultaneously so offbeat that you cannot imagine anyone else thinking of them and so instantly compelling that they can easily appeal to fans of both mainstream and cult cinema. Some of his more notable efforts have included “It’s Alive” (1975), in which concerns about the generation gap where given gruesome life in the form of mutant killer babies, “The Stuff” (1985), in which a mysterious dessert that took over the minds and bodies of all who consumed it helped effective satirize the consumer culture of the Eighties and “Phone Booth” (2002), a Hitchcock-style thriller that took place almost entirely within the confines of the last remaining phone booth in New York City. Although he doesn’t make many films these days, a film will come around every once in a while that is clever and audacious enough to remind me of his output—with its combination of horror tropes and sharp social satire, “Get Out” is a prime example of a Cohen-style negative. With its punchy basic premise and narrative conceit, the new thriller “Kidnap” sounds, at least on paper, like another story that might have sprung from Cohen’s typewriter. In this case, however, the end result is so idiotic and so completely lacking in even the most tenuous strands of plausibility and taste that anyone unlucky enough to sit through it will emerge from it either seething with rage over having wasted $12 and 90 minutes of their lives or practically bowled over with incredulous laughter over how inane the whole thing truly is.Halle Berry stars as Karla Dyson, the fiercely protective mother of seven-year-old son Frankie (Sage Correa)—you can tell because the first four minutes of the film consist of home movies of her cooing over the kid. After a shift waitressing at a diner with the world’s worst client base—including a fat kid who pitches a fit when his breakfast arrives with the bacon he ordered instead of the hash browns he wanted—Karla takes Frankie to a local park and while watching a music performance, she gets a call from her lawyer informing her that she is about to lose full custody of Frankie to her ex-husband and his new wife. Karla leaves Frankie for a few seconds in order to take the call and when it is cut short thanks to a dead battery, she turns around and Frankie is gone. After a frantic search through the playground—there is some confusion since she keeps calling out “Marco’ (as in Polo) instead of the kid’s actual name—she finally spots him being dragged into a car by an unknown and overweight white woman (Chris McGinn) that speeds off. Since no one else is around to see this, Karla gets into her minivan—making sure to drop her phone in the parking lot along the way—and begins a relentless pursuit that will take up much of the remaining running time.
So back to Larry Cohen, if I may. As I said, the film does, at first blush, bear certain echoes of his work. The premise of a desperate mother relentlessly pursuing the people who have inexplicably kidnapped her child is one that should easily resonate strongly with most viewers, especially ones who have children themselves. The gimmick of requiring the mother to spend most of the ensuing running time behind the wheel of her car is a twist that is inspired while still maintaining a certain plausibility and there is a certain perverse amusement to be had at the notion of getting a big movie star and then keeping them behind the wheel of a car by themselves for long stretches of time. Now, having established those things as a foundation, Cohen would then add clever dialogue and interesting characters to the mix while setting them all in a convincing and plausible milieu that the stranger stuff could bounce off of in interesting and unexpected ways. Finally, at just about the point when the central conceit was beginning to wear a bit thing—maybe around two-thirds of the way through—he would add another conceptual twist that would reenergize the story and get it across the finish line in a reasonably satisfying manner.
“Kidnap,” on the other hand, somehow manages to blow every single one of those aspects and many others to boot. In fact, it becomes so implausible in so many ways right from the start that for most of the running time, I was convinced that the entire thing was a hallucination of Karla’s and we would discover that the whole thing was in her head—maybe she had lost a child before and this was a fantasy created by her mind in response to that terrible loss. I am not saying that this is a particularly good or inspired ending but it would have offered some explanation for many of the things that don’t make any sense—Karla’s insistence on yelling “Marco” instead of “Frankie,” the way that Karla’s high-speed pursuit of the kidnappers doesn’t seem to attract the notice of any of the other motorists despite the speeding and weaving and occasional smash-ups, the way that after a certain point, there are absolutely no other cars on the road other than the ones driven by Karla and the kidnappers, the way that there is only one policeman present at the police station where Karla finally decides to report the crime before inexplicably bolting, the way that the film contrives it so that when an Amber alert is issued, it is for the wrong car. As it turns out—Spoiler Alert!—there is no twist at all. Everything that we see is meant to be really happening even though there is not a single moment in which anyone in the story acts in an even remotely plausible manner. Just for this alone, “Kidnap” is easily the single stupidest movie debuting this weekend and bear in mind, I have seen “Sharknado 5.”
Like many actors, Hale Berry has made a number of films in her career that could be considered a tad subpar—“Catwoman,” “Perfect Stranger” and “Movie 43” immediately leap to mind, despite years of intensive Adlerian therapy designed to prevent such a thing from occurring—but “Kidnap” just may be the nadir. Her character is so lamely conceived that it would hardly pass muster in a lesser Lifetime movie and she cannot do anything as an actress to make it work at all—if someone were to make a list of the worst performances in recent years by Oscar winners, her turn her would absolutely have to be considered. This is the kind of script that even an up-and-coming performer in search of a big break would question this material if it was offered to them, let alone someone of Berry’s stature. And yet, not only did Berry elect to appear in this one, she even signed on to be one of its co-producers as well for reasons that are well neigh inexplicable. Did she enjoy the chance to play a complete moron for once? Did she embrace the challenge of taking part in some of the most incompetently staged car chases to come along as a while? As a mother, was she inspired to make a film that so callously exploited the horror of child abduction in order to make a film as cartoonish as this one and which at one point has the kidnapper dangling Frankie out the open front door of the car while speeding along in order to get a rise out of people? Did she think that this film was simply too dumb to be released and that she could just take the money and run while it sat on a shelf?If that last one was true, then the joke is on her—while “Kidnap” has been sitting around for a couple of years and gone through numerous booted opening dates and at least one previous distributor, it is now coming out for all to see.Combining the crack stunt work of a lesser Tyler Perry joint and the raw drama of one of the lesser “Smokey and the Bandit” movies, “Kidnap” kicks off the cinematic dog days of August with what could possibly be the worst film of the season—yes, even worse than “Transformers 5,” which is practically a template of narrative coherence compared to this one. And yet, thanks to an accident of timing—female-driven action films are now in vogue and the success of “Girls Trip” suggests that there is an audience for stories driven, no pun intended, by African-American women—it might actually make a few bucks before audiences catch on to just how lousy it really is. Frankly, the thing is so ridiculous that with just a couple of tweaks here and there, it could plausibly pass as a spoof of films involving bad guys who discover too late that they Messed With The Wrong Parent. All it needs is a little coda after the end credits that cuts back to the diner from the beginning and finds the obnoxious fat kid from the beginning still waiting for his hash browns and remarking “Well, I’ll give her five more minutes—but that’s all!”
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