Friday, January 8, 2021

Kevinography, part 7: The Bodyguard (1992)

This post comes out of a series of writing I do on ASOIAF meta and other topics of popular culture over at the Patreon of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. If you like to read stuff like this, chime in just 1$ and you get access to everything I write. If you throw in 2$, you even get access to the audio version. For 5$, you get access to the mini-podcasts I'm doing with illustrious co-hosts answering questions by listeners of the podcast. At 10$, you get exclusive access to the Boiled Leather Audio Conversation bonus podcasts. Give the Patreon a look!

This is part 7 in a series in which, for reasons not really clear, I watch all watchable movies with Kevin Costner. And maybe even some unwatchable ones. I will then comment on them here for you, including a synopsis in case you aren't familiar with them. 
 
Synopsis: Frank Farmer (Kevin Costner) is a professional bodyguard. Reluctantly, he takes the job to protect the pop singer and actress Rachel Marran (Whitney Houston) who, her manager believes, is in danger from some obsessive fan. Said manager keeps the news from her, and unsurprisingly, she's in no mood to cooperate. This changes after Farmer protects her in a club, and she falls in love with him. Belatedly he realizes it interferes with the job, they seperate and later reunite, all the while a dangerous killer is on the loose. 

Analysis: It's official. Romantic movies age the worst. This is the first entry in this series that I actively loathed while watching it. Granted, I'm really not the type for the genre, but this is just awful. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. 

I'd never watched Bodyguard before, but I knew it existed, mainly to a late 1990s German comedy ("Erkan und Stefan") which had its titular characters have a Bodyguard poster in their dorm room and constantly quote the tag line. So the basic premise was a known quantity to me, and it's solid as premises go. Professional bodyguard falls in love with his protege, this complicates his job, cue suspense and action sequences, interspere with romantic scenes, get the sweet overlap that makes this into a movie appealing to men and women both, box office ca-ching. 

Movies like this have two options: Either they're really good and receive a respectable audience due to good reviews, or they draw on star power to carry it. "Bodyguard" is obviously an example of the latter, using Costner's and Houston's then star status to full effect. Unfortunately for an audience today, neither is even remotely a big star today and most people might be hard pressed to even remember Houston in the first place. 

Structurally, though, the two are relied upon to carry the movie by themselves, Houston most of all. At times, the movie feels like an MTV clip, a best of Houston, with extended scenes of her singing full-throated love songs. If you like Houston, fine, but if not, these elements stick out raw. 

Costner himself is at best serviceable. The role doesn't ask for much, and mostly, he's just staring blankly into the distance because he's a manly man, you see, and emotions are dangerous in this job, yadda yadda. Once or twice, he looks distraught, once or twice, he gets angry, and once or twice, he has a human interest scene in which he interacts with a child or an old man from rural America to show that he's actually a human. 

None of this works. The plot itself is absolutely ridiculous, and it's telegraphed in advance. The attempt of the movie to lead the viewers astray with a false assassin is undercut by the sheer fact that the guy they chose has no appeal and is a total unknown. In a movie like this, you don't have the ugly weirdo be the danger, because there's no glory in fighting a guy like that. You need another professional. 

But a professional is not motivated by obsession, so someone needs to hire him. Who, though? Cue to the sister, who gets a plot of being upstaged by her older sister that, once again, one can see coming the first time she's on screen. Of course she didn't want to hurt the cute kid Fletcher, Rachel's son, which is why she regrets her actions later when the hired gun goes a bit too far and confesses. How she thought the kid would react to his mother being murdered is a bit of mystery, but one that remains unsolved because the evil sister gets killed by the same killer only half a minute later trying to save her sister. Calling this a redemption arc would make my eyes rolling so bad they'd fall out of my skull. 

Another weird element is that Houston is supposed to be a succesful actress nominated for the Academy Award, which makes a lot of the plot revolving around the Academy Awards ceremony and showing it in its most glamerous light and at the pinnacle of importance. No wonder the Academy liked the movie back then. It's an embarassing depiction, though, and the characters are again mostly responsible. The people in the show business are card-board cliches of dumb and vain, in need of some correction by a salt-of-the-earth type from rural America. Of course, said guy who didn't even know Rachel or her movies and songs before, is absolutely fascinated by the art and glamour of it all despite himself. 

The main problem with the movie remains its central love story, though, and that's were the dated part comes in most clearly (aside from the 1990s cool that is decidedly not cool today). Houston's character is a hysterical, extremely emotional woman, falling from one behavioral extreme to the next. In the span of two hours, she swings from hating Farmer to respecting Farmer to desiring Farmer to hating Farmer to respecting Farmer to loving Farmer to hating Farmer to respecting Farmer and to loving him again. 

Her mood swings are precipitated by the smallest events. She dislikes him first because she thinks she doesn't need a bodyguard. Fair enough, the death threats are kept from her. When she sees his professionalism at work (mainly looking at cameras) she gets interested. He then saves her during an ill-adviced club event, which leads her to hit him up in the bluntest way imaginable. 

At this point, the central suspension of disbelief comes in. Our most professional, elite bodyguard is asked on a date with subsequent sex by his client (and really, Rachel is incredibly blunt about it) and agrees to it. They go the cinema, watching Kurosawa's "Yoyimbo" (did I already mention that this movie is not subtle appealing to the Academy crowd?) and then into a bar where they play country music and drink beer, where the one-note character facets of "glitzy city girl" and "hard-working rural man" are noodled down. They then go his apartment (no interior decoration, because he's a man) and have sex. In the morning, he suddenly remembers that he's a professional and behaves like a total ass. The movie frames this as her fault, basically. Emotions, always getting in the way of earnest men just doing their jobs. 

But for all of this to work, I have to entirely go with the genre here, ignoring the much-professed professionality. There's actually a scene before this, where Farmer rebuffs her initial advances and she has (aborted) revenge sex with a rival bodyguard of his who, surprise of surprises, turns out to be the villain). This emotional instability and weaponizing of sex and love, as well as the instant regret and weird mood swings, are what make Rachel into a character that righfully could not be portrayed on screen today. And luckily so. 

But this leaves the whole romance a thing between a hysterical celebrity and a stoic asshole. And this is not a plot I'm interested in, at least. It doesn't help that Costner and Houston do not have any chemistry on screen together. She decides to fall in love with him the way Bond girls used to do back in the day, but to make that into the central premise of the movie asks a bit much of the audience. 

We also meet what's by now an old acquintance of the Costner-verse, him playing this guy from the Heartland who has no time and patience for the city-shit and to has to get some heads straight. I mean, his name is fucking FRANK FARMER in case you missed the subtle cues in the bar and the dialogue. Without the culture war accompanying these characterizations today, this was just the usual pandering towards all possible audiences, par for the course for any movie that hopes to break through at the box office. But that doesn't make it any better. 

A last tidbit is the role of the "cocky black chauffeur", as Farmer phrases it himself in a meta-element about the people getting shot (haha, funny that black people tend to be side characters without much depth or importance, right?!), which oozes the casual racism that came after the overt racism of earlier decades. They guy is cocky, yes, he's also lazy (which hard worker Farmer spots instantly), but then the movie remembers that it's actually a blockbuster and so the cocky black chauffeur gets taken under Farmer's wings and learns to do his job right. An uplifting message straight from 1992. 

Verdict:
Oh my god, do not watch this.

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