“Prank kidnapping” is one of those concepts that’s so alarming that you’d expect the phrase to be followed by “gone wrong” — which indeed is the case in “Take the Night,” a first feature film for a writer, director, and producer -Star Seth McTigue. This solid little thriller does a good job of balancing character drama and elements of suspense, its smooth craftsmanship belying the creator’s novice status in multiple creative roles. Saban Films opens the film on July 8 on seven US screens, although it’s more likely to find its audience on July 12 via release on digital and on-demand platforms.
A prologue introduces Robert Chang (Sami Li), a serious teenager who is the new CEO of multinational Chang Import after the death of his father. This promotion is a notable sore spot for older brother William (Roy Huang), who was deliberately passed over – and you can see why, as he’s rude and irresponsible as well as resentful. So we immediately suspect this sibling rivalry is at play when Robert is roughly kidnapped by masked men on his way to his car in the parking garage one night after work.
The film then rewinds a few days to explain how it got to this point. In fact, William has hired men posing as thugs for a fake kidnapping, which he somehow thinks will be a fun way to kickstart Robert’s surprise 25th birthday party. But these men intend to take their role more seriously than he had planned as they have realized that they are dealing with a wealthy target with a crypto fortune and some of them are in dire need of cash.
The Changs’ cantankerous dynamic is mirrored by that between Chad (McTique), a war veteran with PTSD, and his unbearably immature, impulsive brother, Todd (Brennan Keel Cook). Both sets of siblings are haunted by the shadow of an overbearing, recently deceased father who exacerbated their differences by treating them unequally.
This second, seedy duo, who still live together in the family home (like the Changs in their mansion), accept the mean “prank” act alongside two longtime neighborhood friends, the mute Justin (Antonio Aaron) and former Basketball pro prospect Shannon (Shomari Love). The participation of all four men was orchestrated by the Changs’ secretary, Melissa (Grace Serrano), who has her own reasons for turning a prank into a high-stakes robbery, although we don’t fully figure those out for a while.
After that background is clarified, after about half an hour we return to the moment when Robert is unceremoniously stuffed into a trunk by strangers. But what follows doesn’t go according to plan – anyone’s plan, as indeed we soon realize there are several conflicting ones at play here.
McTigue’s script is sufficiently twisted and dense enough to keep interest alive, despite the fact that there’s relatively little of the violent action that one initially expects. Instead, he focuses on gradually uncovering the complexities of the needs of various protagonists in a narrative that eventually jumps back in time to uncover some longer-term consequences (and some remaining narrative surprises).
If “Take the Night” doesn’t quite have the depth and scope to fully achieve the deeper emotional resonances it aims for, it still has a thematic agenda admirably more ambitious than most of these crime capers. It’s successful enough in dramatic terms to be compelling at this level in particular, with a sound cast that does justice to the occasion.
Tension and thrills are less important, although there’s a decent, at times vaguely noir, atmosphere provided by DP Rainer Lipski’s widescreen lenses and Julian Brown’s production design. They appropriately pull off a story set in New York City that was actually filmed in Los Angeles, while editor Todd McTigue’s pacing is airtight. Jonas Wikstrand’s original score does a good job of supporting the story’s sonic blend of criminal intrigue, mysteries, conflicted relationships and hidden sentimental loyalties.
https://variety.com/2022/film/reviews/take-the-night-review-1235310731/ Take the Night Review: This kidnapping is no hoax