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“Take the Night” review: This kidnapping is no joke

“Take the Night” review: This kidnapping is no joke

“Prank kidnapping” is one of those concepts that is so inherently alarming, that one fully expects the sentence to be followed by “goe wrong” – which is actually the case in “Take the Night”, a first feature for screenwriter-director- producer star Seth McTigue. This solid little thriller does a good job of balancing character drama and suspense elements, and its smooth craftsmanship contradicts the creator’s novice status in several creative roles. Saban Films opens the film on seven US screens on July 8, although it is more likely to find its audience via release to digital and on-demand platforms on July 12.

A prologue introduces Robert Chang (Sami Li), a serious-minded youth who is the new CEO of the multinational company Chang Import after his father’s death. That promotion is a remarkably painful place for older brother William (Roy Huang), who happened to be bypassed – and one can see why, since he is rude and irresponsible, as well as annoying. Therefore, we immediately suspect that this sibling rivalry is at stake when Robert is grossly abducted by masked men while walking to his car in the parking garage after work one night.

The film then rewinds a few days to explain how things got to this point. William actually hired men to pose as thugs for a fake kidnapping he somehow thinks would be a fun way to kickstart the surprise party for Robert’s 25th birthday. But these men intend to take their roles more seriously than he had planned, as they have realized that they are dealing with a prosperous goal with a crypto fortune, and some of them have a great need for funds.

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Chang’s quarrelsome dynamics are reflected in the one between Chad (McTique), a PTSD-stricken war veteran, and his annoyingly immature, impulsive brother, Todd (Brennan Keel Cook). Both sibling sets are haunted by the shadow of an indulgent, recently deceased father who exacerbated their differences by treating them differently.

This second, scaled-down duo, who still live together in the family home (as the Chang family does in their mansion), accept the naughty “prank” game along with two longtime neighbor friends, dumb Justin (Antonio Aaron) and once professional basketball prospect Shannon (Shomari Love). The participation of all four men was orchestrated by Chang’s Secretary Melissa (Grace Serrano), who has her own reasons for turning a practical joke into a high-stakes prey, although we will not whisper it all for a while.

That background was established, after about half an hour we return to the moment when Robert was unpretentiously stuffed in a car luggage by strangers. But what follows does not go according to plan – someone’s plan, which we soon understand that there are several contradictory games here.

McTigue’s script is probably convoluted and tight enough to maintain interest, despite the fact that there is relatively little of the violent action one first expects. Instead, he focuses on gradually revealing the complexity of needs among different protagonists in a story that eventually takes a new leap in time to reveal some long-term consequences (and a few remaining narrative surprises).

If “Take the Night” does not quite have the depth and scope to highlight the deeper emotional resonances it aims for, it still has a thematic agenda that is admirably more ambitious than most such crime hijackers. It is successful enough in dramatic terms to convince first and foremost at that level, with a sound cast that suits the occasion.

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Tension and excitement are less relevant, though decent, sometimes vaguely noisy atmosphere offered by DP Rainer Lipski’s widescreen lens and Julian Brown’s production design. They adequately highlight a story from New York City that was actually shot in Los Angeles, while editor Todd McTigue’s pace is airtight. Jonas Wikstrand’s original score does a good job supporting the story’s tonal mix of criminal intrigue, mystery, disagreements and hidden sentimental loyalties.

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