Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Not terribly good, but still compelling

The Kidnapping of the President (1980)
Starring: William Shatner, Hal Holbrook, Miguel Fernandes, and Van Johnson
Director: George Mendeluk
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

The President of the United States (Holbrook) is kidnapped by a psychotic South American professional revolutionary (Fernandes) and held for ransom inside an booby-trapped armored truck full of explosives. It's up to a gun-shy Secret Service agent (Shatner), haunted by the memory of the Kennedy assassination, to figure out a way to save him.

"The Kidnapping of the President" is one of those movies that's saved by its cast. The plot is forced, the dialogue is universally awful, and the ending is all but spoiled by the director trying to ring some forced and very artificial suspense out of the final few moments.

Despite all the flaws, this is a film you watch because the actors in it as so likable and good. Hal Holbrook takes the character of President Adam Scott, who is written like an arrogant blow-hard, and gives him charm and likability. Shatner takes the Secret Service agent Jerry O'Conner, who is written like a borderline whiner, and infuses him with an air of resolve and toughness. Because of the performances by these two actors, the film's flaws seem to fade and you become interested in seeing how it will all turn out.

Van Johnson and Eva Gardner also do their best to bring life to a pointless subplot involving the corrupt Vice President and his shrewish wife. For what they had to work with, they do a decent job, but it really is an element the that added very little to the film. (They got this part of the political thriller aspect right in "Air Force One", another "the president is kidnapped by terrorists" movie... and perhaps one that learned from the mistakes of those that came before? Instead of delving into the background of the Vice President and his questionable morals and henpecked homelife, the filmmakers should have focused on the political mechanisms that kick in when the President is under threat.

If you like light-weight political thrillers, especially if you're a fan of William Shatner or Hal Holbrook, this is a movie worth checking out.

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