Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Kidnapping of the President

(George Mendeluk, 1980)
The "President" part of the title is taken care of by sending Hal Holbrook on a diplomatic mission to Toronto, with stumblebum entourage including Secret Service hack William Shatner. The "Kidnapping" part is taken care of by an explosive truck permanently parked in Nathan Phillips Square. Thus - after the first act throws us a couple White House sets, a weekend-in-Cancun guerrilla opener, the old reliable exploding gas station, and a ticker tape parade down a notably abbreviated side street - things give way to an even more brutally efficient, one-location movie. Sure it's totally ridiculous, but it also manages to be pretty entertaining - most interestingly, the state security apparatus is as bewildered as the terrorists themselves, and the power-mad interactions that ensue lead unpredictably into bad decisions and failed gambits. As a result the tension building devices tend to work, providing a nice counterpoint to the slop-trough of hams in the foreground. Shatner and Holbrook's contrasting thespian rhythms are sandwiched between a panoply of street-level Canuck regulars (Gary Reineke, Miguel Fernandes, Maury Chaykin) and some bizarre Arthur Hailey-type interludes featuring Van Johnson's worse-than-Palin VP and Ava Gardner as his clotheshorse wife. The ending fails to resolve the various tensions, pasting a series of happy faces onto a trick shot that could have been one of the great iconoclastic statements of its era.

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