What does Halle Berry deserve? After winning the Best Actress Oscar in 2002, her turns as Bond girl Jinx Johnson in Die Another Day and the superheroine Storm in X2: X-Men United were high-profile follow-ups. But ever since Gothika, the talented star has been caught in a spiral of poor film decisions. Catwoman. Perfect Stranger. Frankie & Alice. Movie 43.
Such is often the fate of a black female Oscar winner, but Berry once commanded $14 million a film—as well as a $500,000 bonus just to flash her breasts in the 2002 crime thriller Swordfish—and since then has been box-office poison. How can a woman who’s still a household name not rake it in at the box office? Even her small-screen efforts, like CBS’ Extant, have been disastrous. What will it take to Make Halle Berry Great Again?
It certainly won’t be Kidnap, Berry’s latest low-budget thriller. But if you ignore the fact that it won’t be a career-changing hit, it’s pretty damn iconic.
Berry has thrown herself into grindhouse exploitation flicks as of late, like Perfect Stranger and The Call. Kidnap is another of that ilk. She plays a woman in distress after her son is kidnapped at a park. Berry conveniently drops her phone (it’s dead anyway), hops into her minivan, and cruises down the highway after the car with her abducted son in it. The film is essentially one long car chase as Berry encounters peril after peril in her frantic attempts to save her kid’s life.
By the film’s conclusion, Halle is beaten, covered in dirt, bloody, and wielding a shotgun as she stalks through the woods to retrieve her beloved boy from a pair of hillbilly kidnappers. It wouldn’t be hard to believe this was a script someone dusted off from 1982 and simply updated with some modern technology. But not too much technology. Make no mistake, this film is as cheap as they come. The script is awful, the directing is awful, and the plotting makes no goddamn sense. But Berry plays this shit like it’s Sophie’s Choice. It’s Berry’s determination and unwavering performance that sells Kidnap, which would otherwise be unwatchable in the hands of another actress.
It’s a reminder that Berry is a pretty damn good actress, and one that Hollywood hasn’t been kind to for the past 15 years. Perhaps she should take some of the blame for these godawful roles she’s played, where she’s essentially playing the classic role of a white woman in distress (she and Jennifer Lopez love these kind of color-blind casting movies, but they tend to work better for Lopez). Gone are the days when race was a factor in her films, like Jungle Fever or B.A.P.S. or Monster’s Ball. Not that Berry needs to be rocking natural hair and a black-power fist in each of her films, but there’s been a distinct lack of authenticity in every role she’s portrayed since her Oscar win.
These sort of tacky, exploitative films used to star white women in the ’70s and ’80s, so it represents some sort of progress that Berry can portray them now, but this type of genre needs a good director with a strong point of view coupled with an excellent script to rise above genre clichés. It’d be a different story if Berry were devoted to horror and thrillers yet was making films like Scream, Get Out, or It Follows. Instead, she’s making low-budget schlock that studios hope they can pump out to rake in a few dollars in the waning days of summer. The rights to Kidnap were initially owned by Relativity when it was filmed back in 2014. After Relativity went belly-up, it was shelved until Aviron Pictures got ahold of it. It’s presumably being released this year because Berry will soon be starring in the much more anticipated Kingsman 2.
But Kidnap is the story of how I learned to stop worrying and love Berry’s messy career. Do I wish she was slaying the box office as well as the red carpet? Of course. Yet it’s still undeniable that Kidnap is a really good time. It’s a 95-minute car chase that fits right in with the summer of bombastic films featuring fast wheels—Fate of the Furious, Baby Driver, and Atomic Blonde.
The film unfortunately leaked online several months ago, but if you peruse social media it’s already gunning for cult-classic status. It was never going to make much of a splash, but word of mouth has already let audiences know that, as far as completely bonkers thrillers go, Kidnap is one of the best of the year.
Much of Berry’s media attention these days stems from her personal life, including custody battles with exes Olivier Martinez and Gabriel Aubry. Perhaps that’s why, at one point in the film when Berry’s vehicle runs out of gas, she flees down the highway letting out a guttural scream—like the horror movie final girl she could’ve been a lifetime ago. Kidnap’s infamous tagline is “they just messed with the wrong mother.” It’s Berry’s message not only to her son’s abductors, but to those who think her Hollywood career is dead on arrival.
Don’t fuck with her, fellas. This isn’t her first time at the guilty-pleasure rodeo.