A slippery one to pin down, Mick Jackson’s romantic thriller was a runaway success, and yet also something of a disaster for all concerned. A cinematic, home video and soundtrack smash, The Bodyguard featured iconic leads, a slick production and Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You, and the ingredients suggest an instant classic. But this was the peak of Costner as a star draw, Whitney Houston’s career collapse after this early promise is widely recorded elsewhere, and Jackson followed up with a Dana Carvey vehicle. So what is wrong (and right) with The Bodyguard?
Firstly, this is a thriller well short on thrills. The opening bombing is only shown obliquely, and there’s few attempts to create tension or even an action scene that extends beyond a few seconds. Costner sports a rough haircut, and plays up his brand of glowering charisma as ex presidential bodyguard Frank Farmer who takes on a tricky job protecting pop star Rachel Maddox (Houston) from an unknown threat. Of course, Rachel falls for Frank’s gruff charm, and the couple unwisely embark on a tempestuous affair as Farmer attempts to flush the killer out.
The Bodyguard doesn’t do well with plot, but the atmosphere is good, with Houston and Costner undeniably having the super-glam looks for this, and a reasonably authentic feel for the music business and its excesses, plus some samurai references for cineastes. The details, however, are utter cobblers; Farmer rebuilds Rachel’s’ house to make it secure, but when she visits a local night-club, she sits alone opening hand-written letters from strangers? Frank convinces Rachel to cancel all of the tour-dates she has sold out, but she still wants to go to the Oscars? The entire Oscar ceremony is a hoot, hosted by Robert Wuhl with some real old-school sexist remarks, and there’s a Debbie Reynolds cameo to boot as The Bodyguard jumps the shark with some high-end melodrama for the climax, untypically silly from the usually grounded pen of Lawrence Kasdan.
Intended for Diana Ross and Steve McQueen, The Bodyguard was one of these not-great films that were widely seen, and that ubiquitous quality ended up damaging everyone’s reputations. But served up as streaming on Amazon Prime circa 2021, it’s pretty entertaining, and better than memory serves. A remake with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga as the protector and singer exists only in my imagination, but might just be a go-er if the roles were reversed for the woke era…