In trying to do too much, Kidnapping Inc falls apart at the seams. The plot is poorly woven, with no direction as to which of the (thinly-developed) characters the story should place its thematic focus on.
By Jerry Chiemeke
It’s 2017 in Haiti. The hospitals function just as poorly as the banks, the black majority hates the mixed-race minority for controlling all the wealth, abduction is the dominant sport in the streets of Port-Au-Prince (the country’s capital), and thousands attempt to migrate illegally into the United States. Not even a citywide love for football can provide a distraction from the deluge.
This Gotham-esque state of chaos is the milieu for Kidnapping Inc, the scatter-brained dark comedy directed by Haitian filmmaker Bruno Mourral. Nearly seven years after making an impression with the mid-length Kafou (2017), this is his first foray into feature-length directing, for which he enlists a cast that includes Jasmuel Andri, Rolapthon Mercure, Ashley Laraque, Anabel Lopez, Manfred Marcelin, Gessica Geneus, Marcus Boereau and Patrick Joseph.
When two bumbling gangsters, Doc (Jasmuel Andri) and Zoe (Rolapthon Mercure), botch what is supposed to be a simple kidnapping mission – they tamper with the bounty, who happens to be the son of the leading presidential aspirant in the country’s forthcoming elections – they attempt to rectify their errors, but somehow find themselves doubling down on their ineptitude, leaving a huge trail of disquiet in their wake.
The abductee’s wife, Audrey (Anabel Lopez), seeks to take advantage of the situation and siphon some of the ransom money with the help of her lover Eddie (Marcus Boereau), who in turn cahoots with police chief Captain Fritz (Manfred Marcelin). The city’s already volatile landscape quickly erupts with a motley of flying bullets, bloodied windshields and screeching tyres.
Andri and Mercure manage to bounce off each other in this 105-minute cocktail of slapstick humour and unbridled violence. The cartoonish banter and homophobic jokes do little to establish any concrete layers of friendship between the two leads – expect nothing remotely close to the bromance between Jules and Vincent in Pulp Fiction – but they do just enough to pique the interest of audiences curious to see how far their incompetence will go. Gessica Geneus is the choleric Laura with a baby on the way, who blames her indecisive husband Pat (Patrick Joseph) for being at the mercy of Doc and Zoe’s floundering. The couple, whose arguments provide some social commentary on class disparity, bring a dynamic to the film that makes for a bearable second act.
Martin Levent’s cinematography is instrumental to some of the movie’s finer moments, amid panning and tracking shots that capture the car chase and shootout scenes. Certain sequences are a tad over-the-top, but deftly executed production design complements the sociopolitical context that Mourral attempts to capture: Haiti is a cesspool of corrupt law enforcement, insecurity, and multidimensional squalor. It bears mentioning, too, that the chaos illustrated in this film mirrors the current plight of a certain populous black nation at another corner of the Atlantic: in Nigeria, the economy is in freefall, and kidnapping is quickly becoming a lucrative enterprise.
But in trying to do too much, Kidnapping Inc falls apart at the seams. The plot is poorly woven, with no direction as to which of the (thinly-developed) characters the story should place its thematic focus on. There is not enough drama to evoke pathos or any sort of emotional investment in the characters, the humour is not tasteful enough to sustain any meaningful stretch of hilarity, and the political insight does not hold enough wit to pass for good satire. There are few third acts as painful to experience as what unfolds in this film, with the story swerving haphazardly without any grace or purpose, and limping to an anticlimactic finish. For all its fast-paced moments, Mourral’s directorial debut signals ambition, but too many ingredients may have ruined this broth.
Kidnapping Inc was screened at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, which was held from January 18 to 28, 2024.
The Sundance Film Festival, a programme of the nonprofit, Sundance Institute, is the pre-eminent gathering of original storytellers and audiences seeking new voices and fresh perspectives. Since 1985, hundreds of films launched at the Festival have gone on to gain critical acclaim and reach new audiences worldwide. The programme consists of fiction and nonfiction features and short films, series and episodic content, innovative storytelling, and performances, as well as conversations, and other events.
Jerry Chiemeke is a communications executive, film critic, journalist, and lawyer. His works have appeared in Die Welt, The i Paper, The Africa Report, Culture Custodian, and Statement Africa, among others. He has been selected for international film festivals like Berlinale, Durban International Film Festival, and Blackstar Film Festival in Philadelphia. Jerry lives in London, where he writes on Nollywood, African literature, and Nigerian music. He is the author of Dreaming of Ways to Understand You, a collection of short stories.