The Trashy Movie Paradox is that to be a good trashy movie, a movie must be REALLY trashy—we’re talking Meet the Feebles puppet-f*cking trashy. At some point you have to realize that your movie is bad and fling yourself whole-heartedly into the badness to land somewhere on the good-bad spectrum. Commit to the bad, and maybe make something fun. The problem is, few filmmakers want to admit they’re making a bad movie and lean into it. Horror directors are most likely to do it, since there’s an acceptable degree of schlock involved in their genre (which is my abiding hope for Aquaman: James Wan comes from horror and knows how to make schlock good). Kidnap is one of those movies—it could have been a trashterpiece, but it’s too unwilling to revel in the exploitation dirt.
But all the pieces are there. Halle Berry gives an insanely committed performance as Karla, a mother desperate to save her son. Berry has always wanted to be an action star, and lately has been willing to make B-grade exploitation flicks like The Call and Dark Tide to get there. Kidnap is a terrible, extremely poorly made movie that I desperately wanted to walk out of, but goddamn Berry is working her ass off and trying her best to sell it. That’s the second tenet of making a good-bad movie: Actors completely committed to their performances no matter how bad or baffling the movie. Had director Luis Prieto (Pusher) steered into the skid along with Berry, Kidnap would be magical.
The setup is quick and easy. Karla is a single mom, working a crap diner job to take care of her kid, Frankie (Sage Correa), whose distinguishing feature is that he wears cute little kid glasses. There’s a nebulous custody threat that has nothing to do with anything except establishing Karla’s blue collar bona fides, as if the diner gig didn’t already do that. Within ten minutes, Frankie is kidnapped and Karla is in her minivan, chasing the kidnappers, and at first, it seems like Kidnap is going for the trashterpiece hall of fame. There are baffling cuts that don’t make any sense—Karla putting her van into gear has as many cuts as Liam Neeson scaling a fence— and shots of speedometers climbing to forty, even SIXTY miles an hour.
This is exciting stuff. Kidnap is already bad and bordering on insane and we’re not even twenty minutes in. But then a switch flips and even though the movie remains bad—painfully bad—the insanity starts dropping off. Kidnap is largely a series of poorly shot car chases while Halle Berry screams at people to call 911. There’s no character development and hardly any plot, which shouldn’t be a problem but Prieto is pulling hard to keep things in line and conventional, and a conventionally good movie demands those things.
Kidnap wants to be Taken, but blender-editing aside, Taken is actually a good movie. It is good at fight scenes—even if the quick-cut style isn’t aging well—and works as a thriller. Bryan Mills is a simple but compelling character because there is something to define him other than “dad”—his very particular set of skills. But Karla has no defining trait beyond “mother”, and Berry is working so hard for something that just isn’t there for her. In exploitation that’s not usually a problem—see every film by Eli Roth—because the movie is there to revel in grit and gore, not character development, but Kidnap is unwilling to let Halle Berry get that dirty.
Exploitation is about throwing the conventional out the window and committing to style and thrill. But for that to work, you have to HAVE style and thrill. Kidnap has no style and no thrill, and so it falls flat. Berry is doing her best her to inject some thrill into the proceedings but Prieto has no discernible style beyond, “I saw The Fast and the Furious once.” That’s not enough to power Kidnap to trashterpiece classic status. It’s just enough to strand Halle Berry in a bad movie that isn’t working even half as hard as she is to achieve something entertaining.