To sum up, Shatner’s been in charge of the president’s safety for about forty seconds and has completely botched it.
There’s a fascinating book called “The World’s Most Dangerous Places” by Robert Young Pelton, a swashbuckling fellow who likes sneaking into warzones, dictatorships and other seedy places and have vacations. We’re fans of the book, but we must point out that RYP completely misses two truly dangerous places- Toronto, Ontario, and William Shatner’s brain. And when these dangers come together, as in “The Kidnapping of the President,” we reach a place so terrifying that even Pelton himself wouldn’t dare enter.
It’s impossible to describe “The Kidnapping of the President” without making it sound way better than it is, but here goes: William Shatner is a wooden, melodramatic guy who takes things way too seriously. So is the character he plays here, a paranoid Secret Service agent who sees danger for the President (Hal Holbrook) at every turn. Left in charge of the president’s safety after his boss has a heart attack, and hearing through the grapevine that danger lurks in that hotbed of corruption and crime that is Toronto, Shatner begs the president to cancel his trip, or at least not to drive by any grassy knolls. No luck: the prez is a maverick who cares about The People over his own safety, which means Shatner will have to work extra hard to protect the big dope.
Meanwhile, a South American terrorist named Roberto Assanti (Miguel Fernandes) has a vendetta against the President because, well, they never explain that, but he hates the guy nonetheless. Assanti likes to handcuff women, sleep with them and then strangle them, which is also not explained. But we do know that he and his two accomplices are on a collision course with wackiness- er, the President, whom they plan to kidnap fiendishly as he walks through the cheering Toronto crowds. Their plan is based on the premise that Toronto’s police will fall for just about anything, and it works. Within ten minutes Assanti has handcuffed the president to himself and led him over to an armored truck rigged with explosives. No, he doesn’t want to sleep with the president, or strangle him, but he does have other demands, which he’ll gladly explain once he puts the president in the truck. In the most boneheaded move since Garo Yepremian tried to throw a pass for the Dolphins, Shatner tells Assanti to go ahead, and that the 733 sharpshooters who all have a clear shot at Assanti’s head should back off.
To sum up, Shatner’s been in charge of the president’s safety for about forty seconds and has completely botched it. And from here it’s one Shatner blunder after another. He can’t seem to figure out anything. He can’t get Assanti to tell him anything but his demands. He can’t figure out how to get into the truck. He can’t find Assanti’s accomplice. And neither he nor the Vice-President (Van Johnson) can decide what to do about anything. (There’s a lot of “What do you think?” “I don’t know, what do you think?” etc.) Plus, time is running out: at midnight, Assanti says, his truck will blow up, with the president inside.
As if this wasn’t boring enough, we also get a whole load of subplots. Assanti’s accomplice turns out to be a left-wing protestor who thinks her sister was killed by the CIA. Actually Assanti killed her after his trademark strangling and assaulting, and Shatner has to convince the accomplice of this. The Vice-President, who’s already in hot water for taking a bribe (his defense? The money is “still in the bank!”), gets heat from his conniving wife (Ava Gardner), who wants to let the terrorists blow Holbrook up so he can become president. And Holbrook, stuck in the truck while Assanti goes out to talk with Shatner, can’t stop thinking about sleeping with his wife, which he explains to her in a disgusting but probably realistic scene. Finally Shatner saves the president by letting the clearly superior Canadian security forces do the job. That, and making goofy facial expressions.
While not exactly a top-level b-movie, “Kidnapping” has some great moments along with Shatner’s trademark over-acting. My favorite scene was when Assanti’s other accomplice gets into a shootout with a Canadian cop, who with his dying breath shoots the guy in the crotch. Now that’s the kind of justice you can only get in Canada! Ava Gardner’s witchy role is such a laughably odd turn that it’s a welcoem bit of fun, and the dirty conversation between president and First Lady (“You weren’t so bashful at Camp David!” he teases) is sort of a premonition of the Clinton scandals, and way closer to Hal Holbrook’s privates than you’d probably want to get.
The trailer for this film states that this movie is “Unthinkable, Improbable, Incredible… but it could happen tomorrow!” At least they deliver on the first two. “Kidnapping” is definitely worth a look.