Movie review: ‘Kidnap’

Unlikely scenarios make for a struggle onscreen

With its tale of a stolen child and a desperate mother, “Kidnap” exerts a visceral spell; but sadly, it is not an unbroken spell.

It’s the kind of movie where suspense keeps getting derailed by such thoughts as “Wait a minute!”, “This makes no sense” or more often, “That would never happen!”

Halle Berry plays a single mother whose son disappears at a fairground while she’s making a private cell-call. Racing to the parking lot, Mom sees him getting shoved into a car; the catch is, between running after that car and then hopping into her own, she’s dropped her phone-so her only recourse is to follow those guys at any cost.

“Kidnap” is what’s called a high-concept movie-that is, it has one simple idea (she can’t stop no matter what!) that drives the whole plot; such films often require a lot of convoluted nonsense to keep them going, and this one is no different.

What bothered me most was the many violent wrecks, injuries and likely deaths that Berry’s character was willing to cause in her pursuit; eventually, I had to ask whether Mom’s moral tradeoff was worth it: Does commitment to one’s offspring really justify maiming and manslaughter?

On top of this ethical distraction, one keeps wondering how many car-crashes have to occur before someone starts noticing the swath of destruction; screenwriter Knate Lee tries at one point to head this off with a hasty radio report, but I wasn’t buying it.

In any case, that’s only one of the countless logistical puzzlers that make it hard to stay swept up in the mad-mommy mayhem.

Consider, for example, the kidnappers’ willingness to call attention to themselves by repeatedly wrecking their apparently unwreckable car; worse yet, we find out later that the pair had a shotgun all along, which frankly would’ve achieved much faster results than using their mangled Mustang as a weapon.

And it’s lazy writing to have characters explain what they’re doing or thinking all the time; this is especially galling in the climax, when the audience has already figured out what Berry says, and the time taken to say it could easily have meant life or death. Then there’s the witless overuse of the cleverly nuanced “Oh, God!”, which must occur at least two dozen times (take my word for it-five would have been too many).

Yet in spite of all this, “Kidnap” is often exciting, especially in the final act, which has a creepy “Silence of the Lambs”-like feel.

Berry is effective, but she seems to be fulfilling the infamous “Oscar curse”; following the course of other statue-winners like Cuba Gooding Jr. and Geena Davis, Berry — who took Best Actress for “Monster’s Ball” in 2001 — has since then struggled to find another role worthy of her talent.

This wasn’t it.