“Let me tell you something, as long as my son is in that car, I will not stop. Wherever you go I will be right behind you.”
Never stand between a mama bear and her cub; at least that’s what the new action thriller Vanquish seems to be telling us. The movie stars Ruby Rose as a past drug runner with unparalleled killing skills who is recruited by a corrupt former police commissioner (Morgan Freeman) to carry out a series of dark deeds. While she initially refuses, she soon discovers that her daughter has been abducted and will be returned after the tasks have been completed.
Early reaction to the movie has been dismal, which isn’t all that surprising. Despite the shiny Lionsgate logo, Vanquish looks about as loud and formulaic as can be. If anything, it did at least call to mind another B-movie centering on a mother determined to get back the child suddenly taken from her, 2017’s Kidnap.
In Kidnap, Halle Berry stars as Karla Dyson, a divorced single mother to 6-year-old Frankie (Sage Correa), who she loves more than anything. With a dead end job as a waitress and her ex-husband fighting her for sole custody, Frankie is truly the only bright light in her life. When a typical mother/son trip to the park ends up with Karla losing sight of Frankie, she immediately gets into panic mode. As the frantic mother searches all around for her son, she soon spots him being dragged into a car that quickly takes off with Karla immediately following behind. Soon begins a high-speed pursuit on freeways, side roads and city streets with Karla determined to get her son back.
Much like 2004’s Cellular, Kidnap is the kind of action thriller that doesn’t take its time to get going. There’s a few scenes between mother and son before the stakes are established and the chase is on. Director Luis Prieto knows what the audience watching Kidnap has come wanting to see and he makes sure his movie delivers. From start to finish, the whole effort remains a pure high octane thrill ride that somehow manages to keep the suspension of disbelief low and the twists both plausible and threatening. Time and time again, Karla’s life is threatened, as is Frankie’s, giving way to one highly-charged action moment after another. Kidnap also knows when to wisely take a breather and give its heroine a chance to process. A scene at a police station, a moment of spaced out confusion following a collision with Karla’s minivan and the car carrying her son and a showdown with Frankie’s abductor are each filled with the kinds of moments which prove just as immensely watchable as those on the expressway. It’s the zigzagging of action and plot turns which conspire to make Kidnap the kind of worthwhile B-movie thriller made by people who both know and love the genre.
It’s impossible not to talk about Kidnap at such length without talking about its central character. There’s no pretending what kind of iteration Karla would have been had this movie been made in the 90s. Given the nature of the industry at the time, Karla would have been written a man and the film more than likely would have been shaped into a vehicle for the likes of someone like Harrison Ford or Mel Gibson. The symbolism of Kidnap, and Karla specifically, should therefore not be taken for granted or overlooked. Not only is this a bona fide action film where the mother character is not crying in a bedroom, hoping her lost child will be returned to her, but is instead at the forefront, fighting the bad guys to ensure his safe return. The fact that Karla is a woman of color only adds to the fact that the character represents a clear shift in terms of sheer visibility that cannot be dismissed. But Karla isn’t just used as a high-speed soccer mom on the highway. Kidnap actually gives her moments in the midst of all the adrenaline-fueled chaos to let her be a mother. We see her both pine for her child and channel that very real emotion into a higher level of determination to get Frankie back.
In a lot of ways, Kidnap reminds me of Sorry, Wrong Number, the stunning 1948 film noir starring an Oscar-nominated Barbara Stanwyck in which she plays an invalid confined to her bed who attempts to stop the murder of an unknown victim with only her bedside telephone as a tool. Kidnap offers Berry the same kind of setup, playing a character tied to one element (in this case, her vehicle) and being forced to use both it and her wits to ensure her son’s survival. But the aforementioned film also bears comparison for the way it allows Berry an acting tour-de-force. Much like Stanwyck did in her film, Berry often finds herself acting alone as Karla is shown vocalizing her various levels of fear and rage moment by moment. It’s a feat easier said than done for an actress and Berry is more than up to the challenge as she gives the camera some of the purest moments of intensity and vulnerability of her entire career.
The fate of Kidnap sadly surprised no one. Despite filming having wrapped in late 2014, numerous delays due to the financial problems of Relativity Studios meant the future of the movie was up in the air. Eventually, the film was picked up by Aviron studios and brought out as a late summer release in August 2017 where it was met with lackluster reviews and even worse box office returns. It was a temporary blow to Berry however, who since then has wasted no time in continuing to cultivate a career playing women who quite frankly couldn’t have been played by her when she was first starting out, including a tech genius in Kingsman: The Golden Circle, an ex-assassin in John Wick Chapter 3 or an MMA fighter in the upcoming Bruised (her directorial debut). Kidnap remains another admirable entry in a continuously expectation-defying career.