Bruno Mourral’s debut “Kidnapping Inc.” is a rough watch. Set in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, the crime-comedy of errors slowly devolves into a political thriller, but has neither enough laughs nor the thrills to sustain itself. It follows the exploits of two kidnappers-for-hire who end up roped into a presidential scandal, but despite being led by a capable ensemble, the film is never quite cohesive enough to make the two halves of its political rigmarole feel remotely whole.
High-strung Zoe (Rolaphton Mercure) and his cool-as-a-cucumber partner Doc (Jasmuel Andri) have a casual, personable dynamic even when they shove a kidnapping victim in their trunk. This is all we know about them when we’re dropped in-medias-res into the middle of their latest job, a high-profile kidnapping, the details of which they aren’t fully aware. They’d rather argue about Spanish soccer clubs than ask questions of their clients (their dueling love for rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona is a recurring talking point), but when things start to go awry, they turn to a meek lookalike for the man they abducted (Patrick Joseph), whose headstrong wife Laura (Gessica Geneus) is 9 months pregnant, complicating the film’s car chases set on crowded streets.
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The layers of the film’s conspiracy are peeled back practically all at once, revealing how far up the political food chain this kidnapping goes, and how small and insignificant Doc and Zoe are as pawns in a vast corruption machine. However, the film’s frenetic pacing and cutting prevent most of its visual and verbal gags from fully landing. They seldom have room to breathe, given how each one is sandwiched between two more, and nearly all of them take the form of unconstrained yelling. “Kidnapping Inc.” is the kind of film whose opening text needs to explain the racial perception of mixed-race mulatto peoples, as elite or privileged amongst a mostly Black population, because its story and character dynamics seldom give this impression thanks to its blinkered approach to both comedy and drama.
In a minor exception, during its fleeting initial moments, the leading duo’s blocking and body language are allowed to be punchlines in and of themselves. But from there on out, the film steps on the gas and doesn’t let up, swerving haphazardly between tones and gracelessly switching lanes from one subplot to the next. It even dips its toe into irreverent meanness without much of an underlying point. What little humor can be understood through the chaos is generally unpleasant, despite the cast being sincerely committed to their parts.
The music, by composer Olivier Alary, comes similarly fully-formed, and is responsible for what little intensity and thoughtfulness the movie is able to muster. It’s a great and memorable score, but like its actors, it’s wasted on junk comedy that zips from gag to gag without care or craftsmanship.
Eventually, the film also attempts to pivot towards serious political commentary — its lead kidnappers are part of the country’s ongoing economic plight — but its purview is limited. Haiti’s elections have been pushed back numerous times over the last decade, and “Kidnapping Inc.” imagines a fantastical scenario in which this happens once again (while intersecting with its status as one of the world’s kidnapping capitals). However, its hare-brained schemes are never presented with enough of a smirk to be satirical, nor with enough insight to be a serious and detailed critique of the systems that force many Haitians into financial insecurity, forcing these kinds of kidnappings in the first place.
Ultimately, “Kidnapping Inc.” lacks laughs, insight and personal ethos, thanks to its preoccupation with throwing as many half-formed jokes and soccer references onto the screen as possible. It never takes the time and care to carve them into something meaningful.
“Kidnapping Inc.” premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.
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