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Mediocre Bodyguard fails to protect stars from dry acting

The Bodyguard
Directed by Mick Jackson.
Written by Lawrence Kasdan.
Starring Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston.
Loews Cheri.

By John Jacobs

The Bodyguard, Warner Brothers' latest movie release, stars Whitney Houston (not her real name) in her acting debut and Kevin Costner (probably not his, either).

Whitney essentially plays herself, but now her name is Rachel Marron. Rachel is a temperamental pop singer who lacks songwriting ability and good musical taste, so her phenomenal voice is the only appeal of her music. You'd think it would be easy to add a little depth to your own character, making it more complex and interesting, but Whitney manages not to. The character of Rachel comes off as flat, dulled by Whitney's inability to exaggerate even a little. Too bad. There was potential here for a complex and interesting personality.

Costner plays Frank Farmer, a Secret Service agent who retired when Reagan was shot. "Not on my shift," is his pithy comeback to accusations of incompetence on his part. However, his unrealistic sense of duty prompts his early retirement into private practice. Should he feel guilty for not having been able to stop Hinckley? The movie doesn't say, and the question hangs like an annoying mist over Farmer's character.

The film opens with Farmer being hired to protect Rachel, who has been receiving death threats. Surprisingly, the threats are in the form of letters with threatening messages spelled out in words cut from a newspaper. Pretty original. Out of concern, her managers hire Farmer, but to preserve her fragile mental state, they don't tell her about the letters. From the beginning, the whole setup spells "conflict." Farmer, like most of Costner's roles, is hard-core and serious. Pop star Rachel inevitably finds her protection inconvenient and resists it by acting as the stereotypical stubborn "Hollywood type." Who's got time for that, right? Farmer quits, remarking, "The people that hire me don't have to be convinced to save their own lives." Costner pithiness at its best.

Rachel, as a star, is confused and attracted by his lack of interest. Farmer has fallen in love with her also. To him, she represents a forbidden lifestyle -- one of carelessness and indulgence. Against his better judgment, he allows his emotions and her agents to lure him back. The agents also talk Rachel into putting down the gun, so to speak, and they reunite. The two sort out a few differences and, this time, they hook up.

It's an emotionless romance, though, due to Farmer's dry character and Whitney's undeveloped acting abilities. The camera skips over the sex scene (actually a refreshing deviation) and cuts directly to him leaving in the morning. What? It turns out that he simply cannot mix business with pleasure. No tears, no longing looks, no sappy music -- he just leaves. But are they still in love? Apparently.

As a bodyguard, Costner is intermittently put to use peppering the movie with almost exciting scenes of violence in which he (or at least his stunt double) rescues Rachel from a few potentially bad environments. So what about the murder plot? Farmer discovers that Rachel's sister, who is jealous of -- you guessed it -- her romance with Farmer, contracted Rachel's killer while drunk and stoned in East L.A. She doesn't remember who it was. The FBI captures a perverted but harmless killer, but it becomes unclear who is responsible for the letters. The murder plot culminates in a fake Academy Awards scene not done nearly well enough to suspend disbelief. Farmer's complex instincts tell him that this is the night. Inevitably, people think he's crazy. "Security is A-OK here. She'll be fine" is the message they give him. Farmer sneaks backstage to protect her and the scene dramatically ends when he shoots her would-be assassin in front of thousands of TV viewers.

Is race an issue in the film? No. At first it seems as though the topic should at least be mentioned, but before long, it is forgotten. It's progress that a movie with an interracial relationship at its heart does not need to address it directly.

As for as mixing industries, musicians simply shouldn't act. Remember Freejack, starring Mick Jagger? The Bodyguard isn't quite that bad. In Freejack you kind of were on the edge of your seat thinking that surely instead of saying his line this time, Mick would break into "Beast of Burden." At least Whitney plays a singer. The only reason the filmmakers casted her, though, was so they could make that extra $10.99 each time a soundtrack sold. It was a mistake; sorry, but Whitney's no Elvis.

The movie really isn't worth your seven dollars, though it will be at least worth the rental fee at Tower. This mediocre film is also an unpleasant reminder that Hollywood is an industry, and not always interested in producing something with artistic value. It's money, not art that gets them to the studio on time.