Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Queer Cinephile(s) #30: The Bodyguard

I'm a gay dude who loves movies -- a queer cinephile. I studied film in college and once reviewed movies for a TV station (don't get excited; it was way back in the 20th century). My Netflix queue swelled to over 400 titles in 2013, so, for 2014, I gave myself an assignment: watch 50 films that I've never seen before and write something about them. I'm watching a little bit of everything -- Oscar bait, indie darlings, black & white classics, cult flicks, blockbusters and weird shit my friends have been recommending for years. Go ahead, say it: "I can't believe you've never seen..."

The Bodyguard (released November 1992)

Whitney Houston as superstar Rachel Marron in The Bodyguard
(This futuristic Egyptian warrior queen outfit is not the silliest thing about the movie.)

Here's the original theatrical trailer...

What the Queer Cinephile Says: The Bodyguard is one of those movies that can literally be summed up in three sentences: Someone is trying to kill superstar singer/actress Rachel Marron. Her handlers hire ex-Secret Service agent Frank Farmer to protect her. Complications arise when Frank and Rachel fall in love. 

Kevin Costner is Frank Farmer. He abandoned his Secret Service career after the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in 1981. We're reminded over and over again that he wasn't even on duty that day, but Frank has apparently spent the last decade brooding about the incident while freelancing as a bodyguard. Whitney Houston is Rachel Marron. She lives in a gargantuan mansion surrounded by handlers, a passive-aggressive sister, an adorable eight-year-old son and a security guard whose sole qualification seems to be that he's a big lug. After a Rachel Marron Barbie doll blows up backstage at one of her concerts, Rachel's primary handler, Devaney, seeks Farmer's help. "I don't do celebrities," Frank protests, but you know he's going to change his mind in about ten minutes.

Rachel's been getting death threats for six months. The letters say things like this:

Marron bitch
You have everything
I have nothing
The time is coming
When you shall die

Someone has also gotten into the estate, located Rachel's bedroom and masturbated on her bed. Devaney and Rachel's publicist, Sy, decided not to tell her about any of that stuff, even explaining the bomb away as some kind of "electrical problem." And no, they haven't told the police or the FBI either. Her publicist is worried that those creepy letters and the anonymous spooge on her bedspread are going to "freak her out." Frank recognizes that Rachel Marron is being handled by idiots and takes the job. He orders all kinds of new security measures and moves into a swell guest house on the grounds. And still no one, including Frank, tells Rachel what's really going on. She's alternately enraged and titillated by Frank, constantly poking fun and teasing him with lines like, "You probably won't believe this, but I have a reputation for being a bitch." Whether she's a bitch or not is arguable, but she definitely nails obnoxious.

Anyway, you were promised a love story. So, Frank goes shopping with Rachel in a funky little clothes shop. She tries to engage him in some flirty banter with only a dressing room curtain between them. He's deliberately aloof. She interprets this as disapproval. He grins. She pouts. Back at her super-secure gargantuan estate, Frank watches one of Rachel's music videos on the big TV in his swell guest house. He's so absorbed by her talent and beauty that he can't even blink. All the way up in her bedroom, she hears the music and watches him from her window. Yes, that's exactly how this movie chooses to demonstrate that these two people have fallen in love. Rachel loves Frank because he went shopping with her. Frank loves Rachel because her music video cast some kind of weird spell over him. I guess that music video business is plausible; I fell in love with Michael McDonald, the former lead singer of The Doobie Brothers, after I saw him in a music video for "Sweet Freedom" in 1986.

So, Frank and Rachel have a date night -- a movie, then drinks at a bar -- and no one recognizes her. At all. Even though she's a superstar singer and actress. They slow dance to a country version of Houston's hit, "I Will Always Love You." For a minute, Frank is nervous that someone in this country bar where no one recognizes her is going to kill her. So, they end up back at his place for some puzzling, not remotely erotic Samurai sword foreplay. Then they sleep together. Frank immediately regrets this. Rachel gets petulant. Her songs keep invading the soundtrack. She gets nominated for an Oscar. A boat explodes. Her sister sings "Jesus Loves Me." And somebody still wants to kill her. Truthfully, about an hour and ten minutes into this mess, I wanted to kill her, too.

Kevin Costner -- an often underrated actor --  isn't half bad as the bodyguard. The script requires him to perform plenty of cartoonish heroics, but there are moments when he almost makes you believe you're watching a much better movie. He tries everything short of rubbing sticks and stones together to ignite sparks between himself and Whitney Houston. There's just no chemistry. It's easy to contend that Houston is miscast -- she is -- but the problem with Rachel Marron is twofold. First, she's just a badly written character -- fractious, selfish and clueless one minute, schizophrenically lusting after her bodyguard the next. For a superstar, she barely works. For a mother, she has almost no contact with her child. In fact, she has exactly one inconsequential scene alone with her son and it lasts less than thirty seconds -- Frank has multiple interactions with the kid. Rachel lacks most of the human characteristics that might make her relatable or recognizably vulnerable. Are we really supposed to like a woman that sits by the pool listening to her own songs on headphones? And second, I'm not sure anyone could have made this awful part work, but Whitney Houston simply did not have the skills -- this was her debut role -- to convince you of anything other than the fact that she had a phenomenal singing voice (and we already knew that). She couldn't sell lines like, "Frank, I need you. I'm afraid. And I hate my fear."

I was genuinely surprised that The Bodyguard is such a bad, bad movie. It blusters right on past unbelievable to become the perfect storm of stupid in its last half hour -- that's when all is revealed and somebody tries to kill Rachel at the Academy Awards in front of a worldwide audience. Sound dramatic enough for you? Don't worry, the filmmakers depiction of an Oscar ceremony is so hilariously wrong that the movie finally becomes a can't-look-away-belly-flop into the deep end of the camp pool. (A refresher: Camp is what happens when a bunch of creative people come together to make a serious drama, but something goes monumentally awry in the process and they unintentionally make a comedy... and they don't know it until the audience starts laughing in all the wrong places.)

Stray Gay Observations:

There's an idea for a gay remake stirring around in my head: Ryan Gosling is the bodyguard for Kanye West.

The Bodyguard was written by Lawrence Kasdan. According to my research, it was Kasdan's first script, originally submitted to studios in 1976. At one point it was supposed to star Steve McQueen and Diana Ross, then Ryan O'Neal and Diana Ross. I doubt the outcome would have been much different.

After seeing the godawful movie that eventually got made from his first script, it's kind of amazing that Lawrence Kasdan also wrote the screenplays for some fine American films -- Raiders of the Lost ArkBody Heat, The Big ChillThe Empire Strikes BackThe Accidental Tourist and Grand Canyon.

Should You See It? As ill-conceived Hollywood star vehicles go, The Bodyguard crashes and burns in all kinds of enjoyable ways.

Next Time: Blue Velvet (1986)

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