140. The Kidnapping of the President (1980)
Director: George Mendeluk
Writers: Richard Murphy based on the novel by Charles Templeton
From: Cult Cinema
The President of the United States is kidnapped and held in an armored truck that’s wired to explode. It’s up to the acting head of the Secret Service to work out a way to get the President out safely without caving to the kidnapper’s demands.
I don’t need to describe this movie to make you want to watch it. I only need to use three simple words.
That’s right, Captain James Tiberius Kirk himself is the star of this picture playing the put-upon Secret Service agent. Everything else I have to say about this movie would only serve to discourage you from watching it. All the joy, everything good about the movie, resides in Shatner’s Shatnerian performance.
If I could offer an analog: when my friend and I watched Pump Up the Volume for the first time (it’s excellent and still holds up), I said we have to watch it because “it features Christian Slater Christian Slater-ing all over the place.” Neither of us knew what that meant, but, upon viewing, realized it was true. While I still can’t define “Christian Slater-ing” in words, I can, with the same confidence, say The Kidnapping of the President features William Shatner William Shatner-ing all over the place. I mean, you get to hear Captain Kirk say, "If you fuck me around, I'll rip your heart out." That should be the tagline for the film! What more do you need?
For those interested in spoilers, here are the failings of the movie:
The movie falls apart whenever it moves away from the titular event, which doesn’t even happen until a good thirty-forty minutes into the movie. The first ten minutes are the opening credits and then the Argentinian terrorist who ultimately kidnaps the President murdering members of his own paramilitary squad. Why he does this is never explained. Well, maybe it’s explained while he’s doing it, but I didn’t catch it because it was in Spanish without subtitles. Good. . . uh, good choice there movie.
Cut to the White House where the President is being briefed by the CIA and FBI over a letter from the Vice President indicating the VP accepted a bribe from some criminal. This leads to a subplot of the President asking for the VP’s letter of resignation and the VP then struggling with the decision to give in to the kidnapper’s demands or to let the President die thereby becoming President himself. The VP’s wife wants him to accept the Presidency (she gives off a real evil stepmother vibe in both of her scenes) but he’s undone by the moral quandary of it all.
I will not see a concept more sci-fi this year than the idea of a politician being bothered by his own acts of corruption.
On top of this, the head of the CIA resents the Secret Service’s being in charge of the case and makes moves to undermine Shatner even while the President’s life is at risk. That, honestly, felt the most realistic. To be fair, it feels like the movie gets the details about how this situation could actually go down right, and that’s interesting in the abstract, but not in practice.
The movie makes the mistake of initially placing the drama in the kidnappers’ putting their plan into action: will they get the truck to its destination in time, will they avoid the police long enough to enact their plan, will the action that’s literally the title of the movie even happen? Short answer: yes. Long answer: uh. . . did you see the title? Yeah, they do.
Overall, the movie’s pretty dry and a little boring, and feels oddly televisual. This feels like it wasn’t actually a movie for theaters and, on top of that, it's way too long at an hour and fifty minutes. Shatner is the only good thing and, while his performance doesn’t reach Khan!-levels of delight, his fast-talking and overall presence are the only things that elevate this from being a total snoozer. It's not a complete recommend, but it's a good hangover movie or something to have on in the background while you’re doing chores.