I’m thankful for William Shatner. Among the thousands, if not tens of thousands, of shitty movies ever made, he stands out. When a production hired William Shatner to play a role, they could be sure that no matter the budget, no matter the subject matter, they were going to get Shatner’s best effort. Not once did he ever take a scene off. And, much to the consternation of many involved, he did it his way every time. There is a lot less Shatner ahead of us in this world than there is behind us, and I’m telling you, we will miss him when he’s gone.
The Kidnapping of the President has all the hallmarks of a made for television movie, beginning with its star, that being the aforementioned William Shatner. But, it is not. It is a genuine motion picture production from way back in the halcyon days of 1980, when our democracy was robust and the rot had not yet made itself apparent. Awareness of global warming had hardly moved beyond the walls of academia, and voodoo economics was still but a dream for the right.
It was a time when Hal Holbrook could play a mild-mannered, yet steely, president, and William Shatner could play the Secret Service agent he trusts.
Jerry O’Connor (Shatner), is worried about an upcoming trip that President Adam Scott (Holbrook) is set to take to Toronto. The latest intelligence has warned that a South American communist rebel by the name of Roberto Assanti (Miguel Fernandes), thought dead for many years, is in fact alive, well, and plotting something for the president’s trip. The intelligence has not been confirmed, and thus it is not enough to cancel the trip, but O’Connor is convinced there is danger afoot.
He is correct, as Assanti, with the aid of a pair of henchmen, Linda Steiner and Harvey Cannon (Cindy Girling and Maury ‘Mr. Potatohead!’ Chaykin) are planning to kidnap President Scott and hold him hostage for $100 million in diamonds.
They carry out the kidnapping in broad daylight, imprisoning the president in an armored car right smack dab in the middle of Nathan Phillips Square. The armored car is rigged to blow should anyone fiddle with it. It’s such an effective deterrent that as soon as President Scott is loaded into the armored car, the movie comes to a screeching halt.
Based on the novel by Charles Templeton, Richard Murphy’s screenplay, with George Mendeluk directing, becomes somewhat lost in the wilderness once the kidnapping is complete. Like the kidnappers, there doesn’t seem to be much of a plan for what to do. Sure, the kidnappers want money, just like I’m sure the folks over at Crown International Pictures would have liked this film to make money. But the whole enterprise is about as sophisticated as the business model from the Underpants Gnomes.
Shatner. President. ??? Profit.
It doesn’t really work all that well, except for Shatner. He’s at full tilt in this movie as, again, he is always. At least he didn’t have to carry the movie all on his own. And I’m not referring to Holbrook. Most of his screen time is spent looking around the inside of the armored car. He looks bored, and probably was in real life. Rather, it’s Shatner’s other co-stars that keep this slow movie from sinking into the muck.
There’s Van Johnson, as wishy-washy Vice President Ethan Richards. Ava Gardner as his scheming, gin-soaked wife, desperate to someday become the First Lady. And Fernandes as Assanti. The producers could not have picked a better foil for Shatner than Fernandes. Well, at least until a couple years later when Shatner went up against Ricardo Montalban. Fernandes spent the bulk of his career working in television, but when he was called on to play the bad guy across from William Shatner, he did not shy. He must have known that to act up against a towering figure like Shatner, one could not go for nuance. He had to go full evil with Assanti, embodying the greatest of commie rebel cliché.
This is a ridiculous film. Any fan of William Shatner, so, a whole passel of shitty movie fans, will find delight with The Kidnapping of the President.
Sublime shittiness includes:
- Music from Nash the Slash, who has the best name in the credits. There is liberal use of the hook from Hail to the Chief, only slightly altered, as if the filmmakers were trying to avoid a copyright lawsuit. This enters the realm of the sublime because Hail to the Chief was written in 1812, making concerns over its copyright irrelevant.
- Ava Gardner, whose scenes all took place in a single room, most likely filmed in a single day. It’s the classic shitty appearance by a faded Hollywood star looking for an easy paycheck.
- Maury Chaykin’s delivery, for being somewhere between blind rage and apoplectic anger. It’s a narrow range.
- Chekhov’s timebomb, for delivering the money shot at the end.
- The RCMP for having the best pants in law enforcement.
- And, of course, William Shatner, for his unshakeable confidence in himself, and in his role.
Shatner and Fernandes carry a film that has no business being this entertaining. For keeping my attention, no small feat in the digital age, The Kidnapping of the President lands at #114, displacing Raise the Titanic, a film that could not overcome its second act doldrums. Shatner fans, check it out.