Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Kidnap

“The Dark Tower” is also new to Blu-Ray this week. 

“Kidnap” is different from the usual child abduction and ransom movie in that once it starts, it just keeps going. After an extended opening credit sequence and an unnecessary and overlong scene in which we discover that single mom Karla Dyson (Halle Berry) is a waitress with rude customers, she takes her son Frankie (Sage Correa) to a fair at the local park. It’s there where she turns her back on him for one second (the sadly true refrain of almost every parent whose child befalls tragedy) to take an important phone call (ex-husband is demanding primary custody of Frankie). When she turns around, he’s gone.

Berry plays the scene well as Karla goes from nervous amusement to worry to panic to terror as she starts to think the worst. Her fears are realized when she sees her son get pulled into a car by kidnappers Margo (Chris McGinn) and Terry (Lew Temple). Not wasting a moment, she jumps into her SUV and chases after them, pursuing them on the highways and byways of southern Louisiana. Good thing that the kidnappers are in an aqua colored 1980s car with slats on the back windshield. It seems as though Margo and Terry forgot to look up the meaning of the word “inconspicuous” before embarking on this endeavor.

It’s a few minutes into the pursuit when I realized that “Kidnap” wasn’t going to be a typical kidnap movie. In those types of movies, the kidnapper eventually gets away. This is followed up by the police and FBI getting involved, phone calls, ransom demands, elaborate money drop offs—you’ve seen the movies I’m talking about. This one is different. Karla is one fiercely determined mama, and there is no way that she is going to lose her son to these kidnappers. It’s pretty clear based on some bold decisions she makes early on in the chase that she will hunt them down to no end in order to get her son back. It’s surprisingly refreshing to have a movie be this straightforward.

I have to admire a movie that so closely adheres to the dramatic principles laid out by Greek philosopher Aristotle, commonly known as the Aristotelian Unities. These are: Unity of Action, which states that a play should have one main plot with little to no subplots; Unity of Place, which states that a play should take place in one location; and Unity of Time, which states that a play should take place over the course of a day. Given that “Kidnap” is about a woman’s pursuit of kidnappers to get her son back, takes place entirely in southern Louisiana, and the action unfolds within about a twelve hour period, I’d say the boxes are checked. It’s an interesting challenge that screenwriter Knate Lee took on, and it’s a challenge well met.

Lee’s other challenge is to find ways to keep the tension up and the action flowing. This is more of a test of screenwriter cleverness than anything else. I have to say, the screenplay makes some nice moves to keep the audience guessing on how Karla is going to get through some of the situations she finds herself in so she can get back on track. There are some things that are a bit too easy and coincidental—like when she spots the kidnappers after they change cars—but for the most part her dogged determination made me cheer her on.

If “Kidnap” has any weakness it’s the opening credits and the first scene in the diner, which feel like padding to get the movie to ninety minutes. My guess is that Lee once had a job waiting tables and used that scene as an opportunity to vent some frustrations. Plus there are also some individual shots that linger a bit too long. However, along with that come some nice surprises, a well-written plot (even more relevant now with recent talk of pedophilia and child sex trafficking, which is awful but must be addressed), and a story that keeps you guessing. At the heart of it all is a main character that shows how far a mother will go when pushed to the limit. Rent it.

Also New This Week

The Dark Tower

“The Dark Tower” is one of those movies that starts off so well it gets your hopes up. Then after a while you realize it’s all chases and fights and clichés without much else going on. Too bad too, because what the opening scenes reveal is so promising.

We see a strange, barren world where children are playing. An alarm sounds and some of the children are summoned to a structure where they are strapped down. There are human-looking beings with fake skin faces at control panels. The machine attached to the heads of the children harnesses their psychic ability (aka, their “shine”) and uses it as a powerful beam weapon to try to destroy the dark tower at the center of the universe. The tower protects us from evil creatures invading our universe, so by destroying it, evil man in black Walter (Matthew McConaughey) can allow them in and he can reign supreme.

Pretty cool, right? It’s a fantastically epic premise. Fighting Walter and his minions are the gunslingers. Roland (Idris Elba) is the last of the gunslingers, and therefore the last hope for the universe to stop Walter. Unfortunately, since Roland’s father (Dennis Haysbert) was killed, Roland has wanted nothing but revenge on Walter. While it may be good that Roland wants to kill Walter, his narrow-minded pursuit of revenge means that he is neglecting his other duties as protector. This is not good, as it allows Walter’s minions to run about and terrorize innocent folks around his world—and ours.

Luckily Jake (Tom Taylor), a troubled kid from New York City, has an extraordinary shine. It’s so powerful that it allows him to see into other worlds. Therefore, he knows all about the children, Walter, and Roland. It’s not long before Walter tracks him down and tries to abduct him to be used to bring down the tower.

With all of this going on, and eight books worth of material with which to write a screenplay, something more epic should have been done. Instead we get a ninety-five minute action/chase movie with a lot of the same tropes and clichés we’ve seen many times before in movies that involve an underworld of sorts. There are some funny fish out of water moments, particularly when Roland makes his way to our world, which he calls “Keystone Earth,” but nothing outstanding. The one bright spot was in seeing McConaughey take on a lighter, less serious role. He deserves the break after all of the heavy lifting he’s down over the past few years. He chews the scenery to the point where I was waiting for him to take a bite out of the wall. If he did, then this movie might be worth recommending. Sadly, he doesn’t. Skip it.

More New Releases: “Stay Hungry,” Arnold Schwarzenegger shows off his acting and his fiddling skills in this gem of a drama from 1976, starring alongside Jeff Bridges and Sally Field; “Slaughter High,” in which a bullied kid holds a ten year reunion to get revenge on the ones who picked on and disfigured him; “Junior Bonner,” Sam Peckinpah-directed family drama set against the back drop of an Arizona rodeo championship, starring Steve McQueen, Robert Preston, Ida Lupino, and Ben Johnson; “Scarecrow,” about two hitchhikers who become friends and the movie that taught me that crows don’t actually cower in fear at scarecrows—they laugh at them, starring Gene Hackman and Al Pacino; and “The Lift,” about an evil, killer elevator.

*Baxter, in addition to playing the mom on the TV hit “Family Ties,” was in a number of Lifetime TV movies in which she played some kind of crusading mother on a mission:

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.