Halle Berry will stop at noth­ing in lean, mean “Kid­nap”

The Denver Post - - FEATURES - By Pat Padua Pe­ter Iovino, pro­vided by Av­i­ron Pic­tures-Rel­a­tiv­ity Stu­dios

★★¼5

The omens did not bode well for “Kid­nap,” a New Or­leans-set ac­tion movie in which Halle Berry plays a sin­gle mother who stops at noth­ing to res­cue her ab­ducted 6-year-old son. Orig­i­nally sched­uled for a 2015 re­lease and pushed back mul­ti­ple times, the low-bud­get film has fi­nally made its way into the­aters — but in the dol­drums of late sum­mer (a tra­di­tional dump­ing ground for in­fe­rior prod­uct).

Yet de­spite lim­ited re­sources, a well-worn con­cept and a generic ti­tle, di­rec­tor Luis Pri­eto (“Pusher”) has man­aged to make a sur­pris­ingly ef­fec­tive thriller, lev­er­ag­ing the per­for­mance of his Os­car­win­ning star to con­vert an ap­par­ent junker into a lean, mean sus­pense ma­chine.

The min­i­mal­ist plot is set into mo­tion when Carla (Berry) takes her son (Sage Cor­rea) to a crowded play­ground, tak­ing her eyes off him for one mo­ment to han­dle a phone call about the im­pend­ing cus­tody bat­tle with her ex-hus­band, the boy’s fa­ther. It takes only that mo­ment for a stranger to whisk the boy away in a green 1980s-vin­tage Ford Mus­tang GT — a rather odd car choice for wouldbe kid­nap­pers, es­pe­cially one with­out li­cense plates. And yet some­how, this dis­tinc­tive ve­hi­cle es­capes the no­tice of the Louisiana high­way pa­trol, as does the may­hem of the sub­se­quent chase.

Carla de­cides to pur­sue her child’s ab­duc­tor, cre­at­ing havoc with her red mini­van. This, in a nut­shell, is the whole movie, which sug­gests, for the most part, a ma­ter­nal-vig­i­lante an­swer to Steven Spiel­berg’s 1971 cult clas­sic “Duel,” an in­tensely grip­ping, made-for-tele­vi­sion thriller that pit­ted mo­torist Den­nis Weaver against a mys­te­ri­ously ag­gres­sive truck driver.

“Kid­nap,” how­ever, is no “Duel.” Strain­ing credulity, it nev­er­the­less works re­mark­ably well, with its mi­nor shifts in tac­tics and scenery — from bor­ing high­way to sin­is­ter swamp­land — pro­vid­ing more than enough nail-bit­ing ac­tion. Cin­e­matog­ra­pher Flavio Martinez Labi­ano rev­els in the chase, as if he has been tasked with mak­ing a small-scale “Mad Max” movie.

In a way, that’s kind of what this is.

The char­ac­ters are mostly sketchily drawn, with bad guys who are lit­tle more than car­i­ca­tures of rus­tic bump­kins. But Ber- ry, who also co-pro­duced the movie, car­ries “Kid­nap” with a mix of de­ter­mi­na­tion and dis­tress.

At a fleet and ef­fi­cient 81 min­utes — sev­eral min­utes shorter than its orig­i­nal run­ning time — “Kid­nap” is an ac­tion movie with barely a wasted frame. By the fi­nal act, how­ever, some of those miss­ing min­utes seem to have been crit­i­cal, leav­ing a few jar­ring leaps in con­ti­nu­ity.

De­spite such flaws, “Kid­nap” is a solid and eco­nom­i­cal piece of film­mak­ing. It just goes to show: A big bud­get isn’t nec­es­sary to make a big im­pres­sion.

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