One of the oldest button-pushing devices in cinema is the endangered child motif; it not only exploits a parent’s worst fears, it also taps into the suppressed anxieties adults may have had as children. Spanish director Luis Prieto (“The Disunited States of America,” “Pusher”) and screenwriter Knate Lee (“X-Men: The New Mutants”) belabor this concept to ludicrous and bathetic extremes in the seemingly endless (though only 82 minutes long) and listless thriller, “Kidnap.”
Karla Dyson (Halle Berry) possesses a very particular set of skills, skills acquired over a very long career, skills that make her a nightmare. . . . Actually, she’s a waitress in a New Orleans hash house. But she’s also a mother, a mother utterly devoted to her son Frankie (Sage Correa) as a lengthy opening montage of cooing home movies of his first six years makes amply clear.
Nonetheless, Dyson’s attentiveness slips for a few moments when they are in the park. She’s distracted by a call from a lawyer informing her that her estranged husband wants to take full custody of the child (it seems he and his new girlfriend don’t think she has the financial wherewithal to match her maternal passion). In that unguarded moment abductors slip away with her son in a battered ’80s Mustang and the terrified mother goes in hot pursuit in her minivan.
She’s off to a rough start (she loses her cellphone, otherwise this would be an even shorter movie), but in short order she develops driving expertise that would be the envy of characters in the “Fast & Furious” franchise. The pursuit is rough on the minivan and on innocent bystanders and on Dyson herself, as dust-ups and collisions turn her face into a bloody mask. It won’t do much for the Oscar-winning (“Monster’s Ball,” 2002 ) Berry’s reputation either, as her many close-ups reveal emotions ranging from tear-stained terror to tear-stained rage to tear-stained determination, repeated as necessary.
Prieto has the lush city of New Orleans and surroundings to work with, but except for some nice aerial shots of the Huey P. Long Bridge, the film could have been shot anywhere with highways, pedestrian-cluttered streets, and ready-to-bash traffic.
As for the bad guys, the film falls back on that reliable Hollywood stereotype, the hapless, malevolent redneck. Margo (Chris McGinn) and Terry (Lew Temple) are there just to hate and laugh at, their motives as generic as the film’s title.
Maybe if the filmmakers suggested that these villains were once children with mothers themselves, it might have made their crime, and the chase that ensues, less one-
Directed by Luis Prieto. Written by Knate Lee. Starring Halle Berry, Sage Correa, Chris McGinn, Lew Temple. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 82 minutes. R (violence and peril).Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.