LOCARNO – Fresh from its world premiere at the Locarno Film Festival, this Swiss-German chase thriller is a classy but uneven work, roaring off the starting grid at rubber-burning speed before running out of juice midway through. The plot, about a young couple’s desperate search for their stolen baby along late-night back roads, is loaded with dramatic potential. But despite more than 40 years of screen experience between them, the veteran Swiss director Christoph Schaub and novelist turned screenwriter Martin Suter never quite deliver the high-voltage jolt of stomach-churning suspense that such a parent-scaring plot should realistically trigger.
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Stylishly shot and technically slick, Lullaby Ride comes with solid pedigree as a co-production of Berlin’s X Filme Creative Pool, whose other credits include Run Lola Run, Good Bye Lenin! and the upcoming Cloud Atlas. The female lead Alexandra Maria Lara also has a modest global profile, earning international acclaim in classy period pieces including Downfall, The Baader Meinhof Complex and Control. These factors may help distributors outside the German-speaking market to sell the film as a superior, gripping genre piece. But this lean high-concept plot arguably has more potential as a Hollywood remake.
Tension is apparent from the opening scene, with young parents Livia (Lara) and Marco (Blomberg) bitterly dissecting their broken relationship as they struggle to send their constantly crying baby boy off to sleep. A midnight drive along a semi-deserted highway offers the only solution, but the bickering couple’s brief stopover at an all-night garage turns nightmarish when their car is stolen by a joyriding pair of petty criminals, Jorge (Friedrich) and Claire (Schuler), with the snoozing baby still inside. In desperation, Livia and Marco steal another car to give chase, only to discover a stash of concealed cash and a loaded gun on board.
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In the frenetic late-night chase that follows through sleepy villages and creepy forests, Livia and Marco become both hunter and prey. After several car crashes, tricksy phone scams, a clash with a bogus police officer, a roadside beating and an attempted rape, all the main protagonists finally converge just as dawn is rising. There is a resolution of sorts, albeit a one-sided pay-off that leaves several loose ends.
Some of the film’s more crudely drawn characters, notably the thuggish Jorge and the vampish Amy Winehouse lookalike Claire, seem to have been cut-and-pasted here directly from a 1950s B-picture about lowlife delinquents. Meanwhile, there is a bizarre lack of panic or urgency as Livia and Marco settle into their leisurely cat-and-mouse chase, even as their son’s life potentially hangs in the balance. Straub and Suter could clearly learn a few lessons in sustained tension from previous baby-kidnap movies such as the Coen brothers classic Raising Arizona or Gavin Hood’s Oscar-winning Tsotsi.
Despite its title, Lullaby Ride is never quite boring enough to send anyone off to sleep in earnest. This is a competent and good-looking chase thriller, but there are a few too many illogical dead ends and rambling side roads in its clumsy, coincidence-driven journey.
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Venue: Locarno Film Festival premiere screening, August 4
Production companies: T&C Film AG, X Filme Creative Pool
Cast: Alexandra Maria Lara, Sebastian Blomberg, Carol Schuler, Georg Friedrich
Director: Christoph Schaub
Writer: Martin Suter
Producer: Marcel Hoehn
Cinematography: Nikloai Von Graevenitz
Editor: Marina Vernli
Music: Peter Scherrer
Sales company: T&C Edition AG, Zurich
Rating TBC, 94 minutes