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1980 Movie Reviews – The Kidnapping of the President, Smokey and the Bandit II, and The Octagon

by Sean P. Aune | August 15, 2020August 15, 2020 10:30 am EDT

Welcome to an exciting year-long project here at The Nerdy. 1980 was an exciting year for films giving us a lot of films that would go on to be beloved favorites and cult classics. It was also the start to a major shift in cultural and societal norms, and some of those still reverberate to this day.

We’re going to pick and choose which movies we hit, but right now the list stands at nearly three dozen.

Yes, we’re insane, but 1980 was that great of a year for film.

The articles will come out – in most cases – on the same day the films hit theaters in 1980 so that it is their true 40th anniversaries. All films are also watched again for the purposes of these reviews and are not being done from memory. In some cases, it truly will be the first time we’ve seen them.

This time around it’s Aug. 15, 1980, and we’re off to see The Kidnapping of the President, Smokey and the Bandit II, and The Octagon!

Quick side note: Since we launched this series this year, we’ve discovered that Vintage Video Podcast is doing the exact same project with two differences: First, it’s audio (naturally), and second, they are doing every major film. We’ve listened to a couple of episodes and it’s fun checking off their thoughts against my own. Check them out over at Vintage Video Podcast.

1980 Movie Project - The Kidnapping of the President - 01

The Kidnapping of the President

Normally I don’t mention other movies released the same day when I do these. In this case, both The Kidnapping of the President and The Octagon very much felt like TV productions that somehow made their way into theaters. And I mean “TV productions” in the sense that they look like the sets may fall over at any moment and you may have seen them a week ago on Dukes of Hazard.

A threadbare plot finds a freedom fighter/terrorist carrying out a plot to kidnap the President while on a state visit to Canada. William Shatner plays Jerry O’Connor, a Secret Service agent that people question his fears until a heart attack by his superior puts him in charge.

As you’re sure to figure out, his fears were proven correct when the bad guys get to the President (finally), and then comes the least tense “person in danger” sequence I think I’ve ever experienced. The President (Hal Holbrook) is stashed in an armored truck wired to explode for any number of reasons while a whole lot of phone calls are made.

We’ll also ignore the completely useless sub-plot that the Vice President has done something shady and just handed in his resignation before being put in charge. It was a completely pointless storyline that didn’t change any outcomes.

From production value to the script, this would have done fine as a Sunday night movie and nothing more. And even then I wouldn’t want to watch it.

1980 Movie Project - Smokey and the Bandit II - 02

Smokey and the Bandit II

Remember how fun Smokey and the Bandit was? Remove all the fun, add a way less interesting plot about getting an elephant across country, and you have Smokey and the Bandit II.

The only bright spot in this lackluster sequel is Jackie Gleason as not only Sheriff Buford T. Justice but his brothers Gaylord Justice and Reginald Van Justice. Their introduction in the third act is a highlight, but still not an impressive one.

Overall the film just feels lifeless. No one seems to want to even be doing this film and it shows in their performances. (I picked the photo above on purpose) Sally Field disappears for the majority of the third act, and it just throws everything off balance even further in a film that clearly had no idea what it was trying to de.

I generally try to find something positive in most movies, and the only thing in this one is, and I know I already said it, was Jackie Gleason. I think that man was incapable of turning in a bad performance.

Sequels weren’t quite as common in 1980 as they are now, but this one should be pointed to as “don’t do a sequel just to do it.”

1980 Movie Project - The Octagon - 01

The Octagon

Perhaps even more than The Kidnapping of the President, The Octagon looks as though it was filmed on a backlot of a studio with leftover sets from Kung-Fu.

The Octagon is early in the 1980s fascination with ninjas and Chuck Norris… and Chuck Norris fighting ninjas. The whole movie revolves around terrorists going to a ninja training camp when it’s obvious the vast majority of these people wouldn’t even know how to throw a punch. By the end of the movie as they take on their teachers, they are somehow able to kick their asses and it’s almost hilarious how poorly choreographed the whole thing is.

Norris was a black belt in multiple martial arts disciplines and his fight scenes are so stiff that it looks like two marionettes slap fighting each other ala Punch & Judy.

And lets touch for just a brief moment on the voiced-over thoughts from Norris’ Scott James. They act almost as thought balloons in comic books, but somehow they decided a good idea was to give them an echo effect which made them almost impossible to understand.

As I said, this was early in the 1980s ninja love affair and it’s clear no one really had a clue what a ninja was. Apparently they are either egomaniacal bad guys, or grunting, speechless enigmas? It makes no sense.

The Octagon is a trash heap of a movie that somehow made a profit and led to more films for Norris and ninjas. So many ninjas.

I honestly wish I could form my coherent thoughts about why I hated this movie, but that is kind of how I felt the entire movie.

1980 Movie Reviews will return on Sept. 8 with Battle Beyond the Stars!


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Sean P. Aune

Sean Aune has been a pop culture aficionado since before there was even a term for pop culture. From the time his father brought home Amazing