Dede (Jackson) doesn’t approve of her divorced 22-year old daughter’s parenting skills. The hapless Sarah (Tracey Gold) runs with a marginally disreputable crowd and can’t pick the right birthday presents for son Kyle (Robert Bishop) — slight provocation for what follows.
Kyle starts telling stories about a “Mr. Skully Bones” who does bad things to him at Sarah’s instigation. Apparently there’s an active Satanic cell in town, and Dede takes Kyle to an overzealous expert on the occult who gives much credence to the child’s sketchy rendition.
Dede, with Sarah’s ex-husband at her side, sues for custody. Sarah meets the perfect guy in art class (Jeff Yagher) and marries him to improve her chances in court proceedings … an unnecessary step, as Kyle confesses that grandma coached him to lie. The custody suit is won by Sarah, who’s not surprised at her mother’s behavior.
But the relentless Dede is so convinced her daughter is unfit that she bides her time and eventually kidnaps Kyle. Sarah’s sister (Laura Harris) is forced to choose between sibling and mother and tags along as they go on the run with the aid of an underground organization called “Project Shepherd.”
Televised re-creations of the kidnapping and unusually eager law enforcement officials lead to a resolution.
Choppy editing and erratic continuity mar the first half, though the fractured feel is mainly due to a tenuously held narrative line. It takes too long to get to the kidnapping incident.
There are other pitfalls in David Birke’s script. The nub of the issue isn’t satisfactorily addressed: What motivates grandma? Is she genuinely concerned or slightly bonkers? More is needed on what drives her. She pulls the ritualistic abuse charge out of a hat, but it would be helpful to put the trick on camera.
Second, there’s no one very likable or admirable for viewers to sympathize with, not even the contested boy. Gold’s performance doesn’t offer anything beyond the obvious to persuade the audience to root for Sarah over her calmly malevolent mother.
Director Colin Bucksey and the tech crew try to provide texture with a macabre, dreamlike opening sequence and some occasional photographic effects. With no discernible point to develop however, “A Kidnapping in the Family” can only entertain by default.