‘Take the Night’ Review: With a Crypto Fortune on the Line, This Kidnapping Is No Joke

“Prank kidnapping” is one of those concepts so inherently alarm-triggering, one fully expects the phrase to be followed by “gone wrong” — which indeed is the case in “Take the Night,” a first feature for writer-director-producer-star Seth McTigue. This solid little thriller does a good job balancing character drama and suspense elements, its smooth craftsmanship belying the creator’s newbie status in multiple creative roles. Saban Films is opening the film on seven U.S. screens July 8, though it’s 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’s the new CEO of multinational corporation Chang Import following his father’s death. That promotion is a notable sore spot for older brother William (Roy Huang), who was pointedly passed over — and one can see why, since he’s bratty and irresponsible, as well as resentful. Thus we immediately suspect this sibling rivalry is at play when Robert gets roughly abducted by masked men as he walks 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, in fact, hired men to pose as thugs for a fake kidnapping he somehow thinks will be a funny way to kickstart the surprise party for Robert’s 25th birthday. But those men intend to take their roles more seriously than he’d planned, as they’ve realized they’re dealing with a wealthy target with a crypto fortune, and some among them are in dire need of funds.

The Changs’ quarrelsome dynamic is echoed by that between Chad (McTique), a PTSD-afflicted war veteran, and his aggravatingly 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, downscale duo, still living together in the family home (as the Changs do in their mansion), accept the mean-spirited “prank” gig in conjunction with two longtime neighborhood friends, mute Justin (Antonio Aaron) and onetime pro basketball prospect Shannon (Shomari Love). All four men’s participation was orchestrated by the Changs’ secretary Melissa (Grace Serrano), who has her own reasons for turning a practical joke into a high-stakes heist, though we don’t fully suss those for a while.

That background established, after roughly half an hour we return to the moment of Robert’s being unceremoniously stuffed in a car trunk by strangers. But what ensues does not go according to plan — anybody’s plan, as indeed we soon grasp there are several conflicting ones in play here.

McTigue’s script is sufficiently twisty and tight enough to maintain interest, despite the fact that there’s relatively little of the violent action one at first expects. Instead, his focus is on gradually revealing the complexities of need among various protagonists in a narrative that finally makes another time leap to reveal some longer-term consequences (and a few remaining narrative surprises).

If “Take the Night” doesn’t quite have the depth and scope to fully pull off the deeper emotional resonances it aims for, it nonetheless has a thematic agenda admirably more ambitious than most such crime capers. It’s successful enough in dramatic terms to compel primarily on that level, with a sound cast rising to the occasion.

Tension and thrills are less germane, though there there are decent, sometimes vaguely noirish atmospherics afforded by DP Rainer Lipski’s widescreen lensing and Julian Brown’s production design. They adequately pull off a New York City-set story that was actually shot in Los Angeles, while editor Todd McTigue’s pacing is airtight. Jonas Wikstrand’s original score does a nice job underpinning the story’s tonal mix of criminal intrigue, mystery, discordant relationships and hidden sentimental loyalties.

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