About as appealing as day-old beer littered with cigarette butts, the abysmal caper drama “Kidnapping Mr. Heineken” is one of those international co-productions produced for all the right tax-credit reasons and none of the right artistic ones — the sort of movie one tends to find advertised in the back pages of a Cannes market guide, but hopes never to actually see. And yet, here it is: a slapped-together, wholly unconvincing account of the botched 1983 abduction of beer magnate Alfred “Freddy” Heineken, made from an incoherent script, with a cast of Anglo and Australian pretty boys not even trying to seem remotely Dutch, and one Oscar-winning star scraping career bottom. A most inauspicious English-language filmmaking debut for Daniel (brother of Tomas) Alfredson, “Kidnapping” will hold a handful of cinemas hostage beginning this weekend en route to the VOD slag heap.
The Heineken kidnapping was a major news story of its day in the Netherlands, where it set a record for the country’s largest-ever ransom payout (35 million Dutch guilders, or about $20 million). More recently, the case’s cultural currency was renewed by the publication of an exhaustively researched book by noted crime journalist Peter R. de Vries (best known in the U.S. for his coverage of the Natalee Holloway case), credited as the official source material here. But to an international audience, the whole Heineken affair may seem as trivial as the kidnapping of the Miami deli magnate dramatized in Michael Bay’s “Pain and Gain” must have seemed when that movie traveled overseas. Like Bay’s film, Alfredson’s is something of a class-revolt fantasy, positioning Heineken’s novice abductors — five lifelong friends partnered in a failing construction company — as working-class Robin Hoods hankering for a bigger piece of the pie during the Dutch recession of the early ‘80s.
That’s about as much motivation as Alfredson and screenwriter William Brookfield feel obliged to provide in a movie that constantly leaves you scratching your head as to how such dim-bulb lowlifes could ever manage to pull off so bold a heist. (The characters in “Pain and Gain” were numbskulls too, but their victim was considerably lower-hanging fruit.) Perhaps because they thought it would bore the audience, the filmmakers gloss over most of the procedural details a Michael Mann or a David Fincher would have fetishized — including the building of the sound-proof cells where Heineken and his chauffeur will be held — so that no sooner do our lads have their big idea than they’re in the midst of executing it.
Because the kidnappers themselves have been given interchangeably dull personalities, there’s no one to really root for here; it’s hard enough just keeping track of who’s who. Helpful hints: Cor (Jim Sturgess) is the one with the bad blond dye job and pregnant wife (a wasted Jemima West); Willem (Sam Worthington) is Cor’s surly brother-in-law and co-ringleader; and Jan (Ryan Kwanten) is the obligatory sensitive type who begins to have second thought about getting his hands dirty.
“Kidnapping Mr. Heineken” badly needs some sort of spark, but Anthony Hopkins’ Heineken turns out to be just another wet match. The actor, who’s done some of his career-best work in small padded cells, looks bedraggled and bedheaded here even before he’s been snatched, and, once he has been, delivers nearly all his lines in the same barely audible hiss (most of it potted wisdom about the relative value of friends and money). Possibly, this was someone’s idea of showing us that Heineken could stay cool and cagey under pressure, but Hopkins plays it so cool he’s nearly comatose, and altogether lacking in the blue-blooded, patrician authority the role calls for (and which Rutger Hauer supplied in spades when he played the part in the superior 2011 Dutch feature “The Heineken Kidnapping”). Make no mistake: Hopkins’ onscreen captors aren’t the only ones who are just in this for the money.
Alfredson, who did a sleek, competent job at the helm of the second two entries in the Swedish-made “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” trilogy, seems completely lost here, whether aiming for comedy (think “The Full Monty” with handcuffs and chains) or straightforward thrills. Even the presence of two prominently credited “additional” editors (often a sign of post-production turmoil) has failed to make any sense of the movie’s fitful action sequences — mostly of the car-chase variety — in which smash zooms and shaky-cam inserts are quick-cut past the brink of comprehension.