'Kidnap': Film Review

Berry delivers in an entertaining actioner.

Halle Berry stars as a desperate mom trying to save her son from ruthless abductors in Luis Prieto's thriller.

The limits of maternal instinct are relentlessly tested in Kidnap, a tightly wound actioner that draws on Halle Berry’s intense performance to power this fast-paced feature. Despite its rather generic TV-movie premise, a clever script and consistently gratifying plot twists provide plenty of momentum that could propel Aviron Pictures' late-summer release to decent returns among audiences weary of a season of studio misfires.

As a divorced single mother, Karla Dyson (Berry) works a thankless waitressing job serving rude customers at a New Orleans-area diner to support her 6-year-old son Frankie (Sage Correa), the light of her life. On a rare, carefree outing to the park one weekend after a particularly stressful shift, Frankie disappears while Karla's distracted by a phone call from her lawyer regarding her ex-husband's attempt to obtain primary custody of their son.

Thinking at first he might just be playing a game, Karla searches the park to no avail, then ventures into the parking lot where she glimpses an unknown woman dragging Frankie into a beat-up old Mustang GT with the license plates removed. Karla runs after the Ford as it pulls out of the parking lot, taking a bad fall and dropping her cellphone as the car speeds away. Barely hesitating, she jumps into her Chrysler minivan and gives pursuit, frantically searching for her phone.

At this point, most distraught parents would probably pull over and find a way to contact law enforcement, but convinced she's on her own, Karla follows the Mustang, which leads her on a perilous high-speed chase through freeway traffic. The kidnappers' attempt to escape only strengthens her resolve as Karla relentlessly closes in on the Ford, finally cornering the car on a deserted highway median. With Frankie's life at stake, she confronts his abductors in a desperate attempt to negotiate his release.

Screenwriter Knate Lee mines Karla's single-minded determination to protect her child for all it's worth, sometimes testing the bounds of plausibility. This tendency becomes especially apparent when Karla's alone in her car without a phone and there's no opportunity for conversation, so she improvises a reassuring dialogue with Frankie that borders on the outright silly, or predictably prays aloud for God's intervention.

Despite these occasional outbursts, most of the plot plays out like one extended chase scene, which is exactly the point, as Karla tries to catch up with Frankie's abductors. As she grows more desperate and their evasion tactics reach extremes, Karla's pursuit strategies evolve, becoming more calculated and far riskier. When her attempts at contacting law enforcement prove fruitless, she relentlessly pushes herself beyond limits she didn't even know she had.

Berry has capably demonstrated her action expertise in numerous low-budget thrillers, as well as four installments of the X-Men franchise in her role as Storm, so her ability to command the screen single-handedly here proves surprisingly satisfying. Lee's narrative template, which overlays a child-abduction scenario with a reluctant heroine's self-actualization, adds up to more than a soccer mom on a mission; it gets directly to the primal issues of survival and maternal instinct. Berry (the mother of two kids herself) is at her best when she's dipping into this deep well of emotion as she ferociously hunts down her child's kidnappers with little regard for her own safety (or that of the numerous victims of her epically distracted driving).

Spanish filmmaker Luis Prieto, who directed the 2012 remake of Nicolas Winding Refn's Pusher, adroitly leverages Berry's familiar face and onscreen persona to consistently escalate tension, as DP Flavio Labiano and editor Avi Youabian construct their shots and action sequences to enable her to totally own the screen.

Production companies: dB Pictures, Lotus Entertainment, Gold Star Films, 606 Films, Rumble Entertainment, Well Go USA
Distributor: Aviron Pictures
Cast: Halle Berry, Sage Correa, Chris McGinn, Lew Temple, Jason George, Arron Shiver, Kurtis Bedford, Carmella Riley, Andy Wagner, Malea Rose
Director: Luis Prieto
Screenwriter: Knate Lee
Producers: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Halle Berry, Erik Howsam, Joey Tufaro, Gregory Chou, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas
Executive producers: Bill Johnson, Jim Seibel, Ara Keshishian, D.J. Gugenheim, Doris Pfardrescher, Mike Drake, Todd Trosclair, Knate Lee, Colin Bates, David Dinerstein, Jason Resnick, William Sadleir
Director of photography: Flavio Labiano
Production designer: Sarah Webster
Costume designer: Ruth E. Carter
Editor: Avi Youabian
Music: Federico Jusid

Rated R, 82 minutes