The abduction of a presidential candidate’s son in Port-au-Prince prompts a series of violent incidents in Bruno Mourral’s ambitious but underwritten effort.
Political unrest, economic instability and rampant insecurity have plagued the Caribbean nation of Haiti for decades. That the small percentage of mixed-race (mulatto) population holds a disproportionate portion of the wealth and power over the 95% Black majority fuels the anger and distrust of the masses. That’s the harsh reality where Haitian-born director Bruno Mourral locates his brash and muddled crime comedy “Kidnapping Inc.”
Devoted fans of rival squads in the Spanish soccer league, Doc (Jasmuel Andri, also a co-writer) and Zoe (Rolapthon Mercure), have abducted the son of presidential candidate Benjamin Perralt (Ashley Laraque) just days before the 2017 election. We don’t know how many times, if any, they’ve done this before, but their ineptitude quickly becomes evident. The pair drives around Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital, with their victim’s dead body in the drunk after Zoe accidentally killed him. Their ridiculous solutions to this unfortunate incident only escalate the irritation of the corrupt police officer at the helm of the mission.
Nearly a dozen thinly written characters, some of them not more than basic archetypes, make up the ensemble cast of this ambitious, if scattered-brained saga. There’s Audrey (Anabel Lopez), the victim’s wife, desperate to cobble together the large ransom sum with the help of her lover, Eddie (Marcus Boereau), who in turn has plans to flee to the neighboring Dominican Republic. The constant shifting between the different parties affected or benefiting from the kidnapping would be less disjointed if buoyed on the friendship of the two main buddies. But their loud and cartoonish banter, featuring a couple of homophobic jokes that are not so much offensive as they are boring, doesn’t let us into any deeper layers of them as people to keep us invested in their individual plights nor their ordeal as a team. It all hinges on their likability, limited mostly to broad fronting.
Mourral’s direction earns commendation not so much for the handling of interpersonal conflicts but the deftly executed shootouts and car chases that never once show any signs of subpar production value. The spontaneous quality that Martin Levent’s camerawork brings to those fast-paced moments of tension and sometimes unnecessarily shocking violence (namely a dog’s death) immerse us long enough to momentarily dismiss the less polished parts.
Any film from a country with as scarce an output as Haiti is cause for curiosity, especially since it’s not a subdued, social realist drama of the kind typically sourced from developing countries to pad festival lineups. On paper, the idea to address social inequality and the corrosion of institutions by way of a potentially crowd-pleasing work of entertainment is sound, even daring, and that’s why the fact that the film’s many elements don’t amalgamate is a shame.
For all the pitfalls it fails to avoid, the film’s strongest narrative virtue is adapting situations pertinent to productions with similar concepts to this specific cultural and national context, remixing the familiar to appear authentic to the daily struggles of Haitians. A chase on foot, for example, unfolds in the narrow streets of a low-income community, where the two inept kidnappers encounter not only difficult-to-navigate alleyways but locals hostile to their presence there. During another chapter in Zoe and Doc’s misadventures, after crashing their own car in attempt to evade responsibility for their precious cargo’s passing, they take a resolute pregnant woman, Laura (Gessica Geneus), and her cowardly husband, Pat (Patrick Joseph), hostage.
The inefficient criminals intercept the couple as they are about to head to the airport. Zoe and Doc need their car, but a headstrong Laura won’t surrender it unless they take her to the airport. She refuses to give birth in Haiti and wants her child to be born in the United States. Such disgust-filled rejection for her poverty-stricken homeland, as well as her privilege to leave it behind, exemplify a wide divide between classes. Even within the same vehicle, their captors don’t have access to simply start fresh elsewhere. The most compelling piece in this jumbled up puzzle of a movie are Laura’s strongly negative sentiments about Haiti, to the point that she would risk gun shots to make sure she can achieve her goal.
When Mourral and co-writers Andri and Gilbert Mirambeau Jr. steer away from trying to make overt statements, “Kidnapping Inc.” falls back on in-your-face distasteful humor, most notably a sequence turning a child’s delivery into a communal spectacle. As the plot concentrates more intently on the dirty politics at play behind the scenes of Perralt’s campaign, the balance between social commentary and bombastic fun feels increasingly off. Aside from the tonal miscalculations, the many threads spun in the early minutes lose relevance toward the abruptly wrapped ending. It’s in the final moments that Mourral reaches for heartfelt emotion through the image of Haitian migrants risking their lives at sea, which ultimately makes logical sense in the story, like few other things do.
‘Kidnapping Inc.’ Review: Haitian Crime Comedy Blends Politics and Thrills to Middling Effect
Reviewed at the Egyptian Theater, Jan. 22, 2024. In Sundance Film Festival (Midnight). Running time: 105 MIN.
- Production: (Haiti-France-Canada) A Promenades Films, BHM Films, Peripheria, Muska Films production. Producers: Samuel Chauvin, Yanick Létourneau, Gilbert Mirambeau Jr., Gaethan Chancy, Bruno Mourral. Executive producers: Julia Woolley Chatwin, Kareem Mortimer, Trevite Willis.
- Crew: Director: Bruno Mourral. Screenplay: Mourral, Jasmuel Andri, Gilbert Mirambeau Jr. Camera: Martin Levent. Editor: Bruno Mourral, Arthur Tarnowski. Music: Olivier Alary.
- With: Jasmuel Andri, Rolapthon Mercure, Ashley Laraque, Marcus Boereau, Gessica Geneus, Patrick Joseph. (Creole, French dialogue)