Monday, August 21, 2017

THE BODYGUARD (1992) - **

Rated R for language
Running time: 129 min.
Release date: November 25, 1992

The Bodyguard is a romance disguised as a thriller, where the romance is between two characters from vastly different worlds and the thriller comes in the form of perceived danger pretty much everywhere. This was enough for The Bodyguard to make over $400 million at the box office against a $25 million budget. This is an impressive feat, indeed. However, it also shows that people probably need to be more discerning in what films they choose to watch. The film's stars were at the peak of their careers, respectively, and that more than likely contributed to the financial success of The Bodyguard. This film will always get a pass because of the money it made; however, if this film had been a huge flop, the weaknesses would have been that much more glaring.

Frank Farmer (Kevin Costner) is a successful private bodyguard with a background as a former Secret Service agent. He normally has a personal rule about not working with celebrities, but is approached by Bill Devaney (Bill Cobbs), the manager for huge mega-star, Rachel Marron (Whitney Houston). Marron has been receiving death threats, which she is oblivious to as Devaney and her agent, Sy Spector (Gary Kemp) have been keeping the threats a secret from her. At first, after meeting her in person, Frank refuses to work with her, as she doesn't take him seriously. Eventually, of course, Frank takes the job and works to secure Rachel's home. Naturally, there is conflict between the two as Frank finds his rules being broken repeatedly. During a concert, a riot breaks out and Frank scoops up Rachel and rescues her from harm. This leads to the two of them getting close and Frank let's all barriers down and breaks one of his own rules: he falls in love. Afterward, Frank takes a step back which puts friction between the two of them, and Rachel responds by routinely taking risks with her safety. A phone call from her stalker, however, makes her see the seriousness of the situation, leading Frank to take her and her family to his father's cabin in the mountains. A plot twist is revealed and tragedy occurs but Rachel is undaunted in her determination to attend the Academy Awards where she is nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. The big climax occurs here in a clumsily-handled set-up and payoff. However, let's backtrack a little bit. The first and most glaring aspect of the film to hit on is the actual romance between Frank and Rachel. It is very difficult to believe that Rachel would even fall for straight-laced Frank, and a lot of that has to do with the chemistry between Costner and Houston. There are very few, if any, sparks between the two leads. Not only that, but the nature of their characters doesn't make the romance believable. The action elements of the plot work to a small extent, but there isn't enough to gloss over scenes of cringe-worthy dialogue, a silly fight scene between Costner and Mike Starr in a kitchen, and the relentless frustration of watching Costner attempt acting.

Director Mick Jackson had previously worked on made-for-television docudramas and the film L.A. Story in 1991. Later on, he would go on to direct the disaster film Volcano and somehow, inexplicably, worked on Clean Slate with Dana Carvey. Jackson does a fine job detailing the glitz and glamour that surrounds a character such as Rachel, with bright lights, sparkling outfits and screaming fans. There is one scene where Frank shows off the sharp-edge of a kitana by throwing a scarf in the air and letting it land on the blade, cutting it in half cleanly. This was a combination of Jackson and cinematographer Andrew Dunn and is one of the better-filmed scenes in the movie. Jackson probably should have pressed harder for better chemistry between the leads, however. The screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan was originally a vehicle intended for Ryan O'Neal and Diana Ross in the 1970s. However, the project stalled for more than a decade. There is quite a bit of melodrama in this script, as well as overly-clichéd scenes such as stopping an airplane just before takeoff so someone can run back to the runway for one last kiss before taking off again. Call me jaded, but this was too much cheese for my tastes.

The cast, of course, is anchored by Costner and Houston. Their chemistry together was non-existent and made the feelings between the two totally unbelievable, which ruins the main plot. Surprisingly, Houston, making her big-screen debut, was at home in the role of Rachel the superstar. She turns in a solid performance which is all the more hampered by the fact that her co-star is Costner. Now, I don't mind Costner in other films, but his work here in The Bodyguard is not his best. He is wooden throughout the film, even during scenes where he is supposed to be at ease and off his guard. Perhaps his performance can be best summed up in the final scene of the film. Costner is now a bodyguard for someone else, and we see him there in the background...standing there. Just...standing. Then we get a freeze-frame for the closing credits. Why do we need a freeze-frame of Kevin Costner just standing still in place? "I Will Always Love You" playing over this image is pretty laughable. Whitney Houston singing about her love for a guy who just...stands there really sums things up nicely as the credits roll.

The Bodyguard is ultimately betrayed by the non-chemistry between the two leads. If the romance is the meat of the plot, and the audience doesn't see the spark between them, then the film is toast the rest of the way; especially, if your stalker/killer/assassin subplot is sloppily handled. Whitney Houston was a surprise revelation in terms of her performance, but at the same time, it wasn't much of a stretch from her everyday persona, which is probably why it worked out so well. The mannequin that looked like Kevin Costner probably could have been replaced with the real Kevin Costner, but budgetary constraints prevented that from happening. As a result, The Bodyguard is a silly and tepid potboiler at best.

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