Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 10, 2005)
By the end of 1992, Whitney Houston needed a comeback. Although it’d only been a short time since her ascent to superstardom in the mid-Eighties, her 1990 release I’m Your Baby Tonight hadn’t lived up to expectations. On the surface, its four million copies sold sounds great, but it paled in comparison with the 13 million units moved by 1985’s Whitney Houston and the nine million pushed by 1987’s Whitney. In addition, younger singers like Mariah Carey had stolen a lot of Houston’s fanbase and made her look like yesterday’s news.
With the film and soundtrack of The Bodyguard, Houston got her comeback - and then some. The movie - Houston’s first - did quite nicely at the box office, as it pulled in a solid $122 million in the US plus another $289 million overseas. However, the album - which featured five tunes from Houston plus a mix of other songs - turned into an enormous sensation. It eventually became the biggest-selling soundtrack of all-time as it sold an astonishing 17 million copies. That also puts it 10th on the list of the top sellers ever without regard for genre.
(Nitpicky footnote: technically, Bodyguard should be considered the seventh biggest seller. Three titles ahead of it in RIAA listings - The Beatles, The Wall and Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits Volumes 1 and 2 - are there due to their tabulating system. A double-album counts twice, so while The Wall gets credited for 23 million units, it really “only” sold 11.5 million copies. Should these records get counted twice since they cost more? Perhaps, but it creates a sticky situation.)
This means that like Saturday Night Fever, more people remember The Bodyguard as an album than as a movie. Unlike Fever, however, Bodyguard might deserve its diminished presence. It’s a decent flick but not a particularly strong one.
When we start Bodyguard, we meet security expert Frank Farmer (Kevin Costner). A former Secret Service agent, he’s aces at his job but he refuses to take long-term assignments; he avoids attachments and leads a solitary life. Threats to singing/acting star Rachel Marron (Houston) manifest themselves, so her assistant Bill Devaney (Bill Cobbs) pleads Frank to come on as her bodyguard. Initially he declines, as he doesn’t want to get involved with showbiz types, but he accedes to at least chat with her and consider it.
Frank gets to Rachel’s mansion and discerns its pathetic security. Rachel and her entourage don’t want to be bothered with intrusive security, which means they set so many restrictions on Frank that he backs out of the job. However, when he meets her son Fletcher (DeVaughn Nixon), he agrees to take the gig.
When Frank gets involved, he learns of a nutbag who seems to be stalking Rachel. He sends her scary letters and has performed other invasive actions. Frank beefs up security around Rachel’s mansion and tries to whip her staff and family into shape.
Inevitably, all of Frank’s precautions cause tension with Rachel, and many of the others - especially prior security chief Tony (Mike Starr) - feel threatened by his presence. Just as inevitably, romantic sparks eventually develop between Frank and Rachel. The movie follows their personal relationship as well as the attempts to find and defeat Rachel’s stalker.
For a while there, it looked like Houston might generate a viable acting career after Bodyguard, though it did more to re-ignite her musical prominence. Surprisingly, Houston only acted in three more flicks after Bodyguard. She appeared in two theatrical releases - 1995’s Waiting to Exhale and 1996’s The Preacher’s Wife - along with a 1997 TV remake of Cinderella.
Part of the problem probably stemmed from the fact that Houston wasn’t much of an actor. Actually, she handles portions of Bodyguard pretty well. When she essentially plays herself - the big-shot celebrity diva - she comes across as believable. Also, some of Houston’s more cheerful moments come across nicely; for example, the scene in which she first asks out Frank seems loose and engaging.
Unfortunately, she can’t display much range, so her more emotional sequences fall flat. It doesn’t help that she and Costner enjoy very little chemistry. I admire the fact that Bodyguard places white Costner - arguably the biggest male movie star at that time - and black Houston as a couple. Even in 1992, that was moderately daring, and it’s cool that the film makes no reference to race; it acts as though their romance is no big deal. The problem is that we don’t invest ourselves in them as a couple and we don’t really care what’ll happen to them.
On his own, Costner’s performance comes as a pleasant surprise. He’s an actor with little range, but he fares well in parts that require him to do the Gary Cooper thing. That happens with Frank, a stoic tough guy. Costner lacks physically intimidating characteristics, but he makes us accept Frank as a badass, and he makes him an acceptably engaging personality despite his low-key nature.
For the most part, The Bodyguard offers decent entertainment, though it suffers because it never quite decides what it wants to be. It starts as a psychological thriller, as we worry about the stalker. Putting the film from the point of view of the defender was interesting; it wasn’t a radically innovative move, but it created something unusual about the flick.
After a while, however, the movie begins to forget about the stalker subplot, as it prefers to focus on the burgeoning relationship between Rachel and Frank. From there, it flops awkwardly between the two genres and doesn’t really satisfy in either regard.
But it doesn’t need to be a flawless flick. The Bodyguard is standard-issue popcorn entertainment, and it works overtime to satisfy both female and male audiences. It succeeds to a degree; neither side of that divide seems likely to adore the flick, but there’s enough to keep both interested.