Sunday, July 23, 2017

1980 Week: The Kidnapping of the President

          An enjoyable blast of formulaic escapism with the slightest touch of camp, thanks to the presence of leading man William Shatner, The Kidnapping of the President is a Canada/US coproduction about exactly what the title suggests. While visiting Toronto, the American commander-in-chief is captured by a terrorist and dragged into an armored van laden with explosives, so an intrepid Secret Service agent—Shatner, naturally—must outwit the resourceful terrorist and rescue the president. Directed in workmanlike fashion by George Mendeluk, the picture offers virtually nothing in the way of character development and political relevance, so the only glimmers of humanity stem from exchanges between the imprisoned president and his anguished wife. That said, the makers of The Kidnapping of the President clearly knew what sort of picture they were making. This is a straightforward potboiler with a cardboard hero, one-dimensional villains, and a foregone conclusion, so those who like unexpected twists in their storytelling should seek their pleasures elsewhere.
          Jerry O’Connor (Shatner) is second-in-command of the security detail protecting amiable President Adam Scott (Hal Holbrook). Ahead of a diplomatic trip to Toronto, O’Connor learns that a violent South American terrorist, Roberto Assanti (Miguel Fernandes), is on the move, so O’Connor counsels the president to limit public exposure. Meanwhile, the film shows Assanti meticulously planning his big scheme, which involves a booby-trapped van. Upon reaching Toronto, the president works a crowd in an outdoor plaza, so Assanti manages to handcuff himself to the commander-in-chief. He then reveals a vest filled with dynamite, allowing him to move the president into the van. This scenario is clever, and notwithstanding the predictable race-against-time climax, the means by which O’Connor and his compatriots address the situation are fairly credible. Still, this is larky stuff, especially with the weak subplot involving a morally compromised vice president (Van Johnson) and his Lady Macbeth-ish wife (Ava Gardner). The best scenes involve Shatner channeling his signature over-the-top intensity and Holbrook demonstrating his avuncular charm. The picture also gets a welcome shot of eccentricity from Maury Chakin’s supporting turn as one of the terrorist’s accomplices.

The Kidnapping of the President: FUNKY

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