As the era of bankable movie stars enters its twilight phase, it’s become an exhaustingly common practice to publicly shame aging, big-name actresses for failing to be the same person they were 15 years ago. The latest cinema queen in the crosshairs of naysayers is Halle Berry, whose appearance in Luis Prieto’s Kidnap—a sometimes pulpy, sometimes soapy B-movie—has drawn unjust sneers from the highbrow elite.
While a quick payday might be the case for Berry on Kidnap (she also serves as a producer), the Oscar winner earns her way to the bank in this mildly titillating (albeit unsophisticated) thriller, which bears a striking resemblance to her 2013 flick The Call, which made a healthy $51 million on a $13 million budget back in 2013. Because you shouldn’t fix what isn’t broken, Berry understandably returns to the formula that has, at least once for her in the recent past, worked.
In her first lead role in four years, Berry plays Karla, a working-class mother hard-knocking her way through a divorce, a messy custody battle, and droves of grumbling customers as a no-nonsense waitress. Kidnap warrants its title when a pair of criminals absconds with Karla’s six-year-old son, prompting her to set out on a high-speed chase (in a badass mom van) throughout the Louisiana backwoods to get him back.
Little separates Kidnap from countless machine-churned thrillers of its ilk, and its ingenuous nature almost defies criticism. Its simple structure, harmless sentiments of maternal resilience, and action-oriented dressings aren’t particularly inspired, and everything you see here has been done 20 times better in dozens of movies throughout history. It plays like 90 minutes of visual white noise, punctuated by an exciting pursuit here and a baddie-gets-what-he-deserves wallop (sometimes with a shovel!) there. None of it breaks new ground (especially for women, as Karla is defined purely by motherhood), but all of it fits squarely into what casual audiences will pay to see—largely thanks to Berry’s presence—especially as summer draws to a close.
Ridiculous and oddly enjoyable, Berry’s work in Kidnap feels culled from the same frenzied space as her work in 2004’s megaflop Catwoman. She’s again working with a director who’s yet to cut his teeth on high-stakes projects, and spends much of the film wildly overacting in her own world in manic asides and extended sequences of mama-in-distress eccentricity. Prieto, who helmed the 2012 English-language remake of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher, is ultimately reluctant to wrangle his leading lady in when he needs to, making Kidnap both a beguiling sandbox of performative spectacle and a fascinating showcase of impeccably clueless direction.
That said, there’s a perky energy throughout Kidnap, one that buzzes between alternating tones (is it campy trash or an earnest thriller?), but the film’s biggest problem is it never picks a side, and the whole thing would’ve worked much better if it had staked an unflinching claim on specific territory.
In the end, do the gripes of film critics matter for a project like this? Probably not. Halle Berry needs your approval like she needed to personally accept her Razzie Award for Worst Actress in 2005—in other words, not at all. You’re only buying a ticket for Kidnap because of her, and I’ll be damned if, like the big-name draws on the big screen of yesteryear, she doesn’t run off with your heart, her getaway car running on the fumes of good old-fashioned Hollywood magnetism. B–