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MOVIE REVIEWS : The Wrong, Silent Type

TIMES STAFF WRITER

According to the ad for “The Bodyguard,” the three golden rules for the job are:

* Never let her out of your sight.

* Never let your guard down.

* Never fall in love.

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Having seen Kevin Costner in the title role, we may now add a fourth:

* Never get a really bad haircut.

“The Bodyguard” (citywide) isn’t a good movie, but it’s often enjoyably bad, and that’s no small achievement. So many talented people had a hand in it, starting with director Mick Jackson and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, that you stare at the screen in a state of rapt bewilderment. Just about everything that can go wrong with this film does, and yet it’s compulsively watchable. (So is a train wreck.)

Costner plays Frank Farmer, an ex-Secret Service agent and protector of U.S. Presidents who has decided to free-lance his talents. As a bodyguard, Frank has a massive commitment problem: He turns down permanent positions because he doesn’t want to grow too attached to his clientele. He also doesn’t “do” celebrities but changes his mind for gorgeous pop superstar Rachel Marron (Whitney Houston). An obsessive fan has been threatening Rachel with loony letters, and even though she seems blithely unconcerned, everyone else in her entourage has the shakes. Frank, ice-pick cool, attempts to override her tantrums and reshape her security arrangements.

Rachel isn’t a big believer in golden rules. She’s always skittering away from Frank without warning; she leaves him with his guard down while she prances before her squealing fans. Worst of all, she gets to Frank. She recognizes that underneath his armor beats the heart of one lonely guy. We can feel Frank sliding away from Rule No. 3, although Frank in love and Frank just being Frank are often indistinguishable. He has the same dull sheen.

The filmmakers have cooked up a terrific new movie character--the shifty-eyed bodyguard who usually lurks in the corner of the action--and placed him center stage. But the movie is surprisingly low on bodyguard banter and shoptalk; we don’t feel like we’re picking up any new moves or lingo. What we get instead is basically the bodyguard as Westerner: Frank’s strong-silent mode is right out of the cowboy’s handbook. (The film makes the point that he prefers country music to Rachel’s pop-rock phantasmagorias.)

He’s also apparently something of an art-house film aficionado. On his first full-service date with Rachel he takes her to see Kurosawa’s great samurai black comedy “Yojimbo.” He’s seen it 62 times, which by all rights ought to violate a whole heap o’ rules.

Despite a spate of lingering glances and a few extra-tasteful couplings, there isn’t a lot of electricity sparking between Costner and Houston. She’s haughty and imperious most of the time and he’s a blank. Opposites attract but maybe these two are just too opposite. Costner is becoming a glum, ramrod performer; he’s so careful here not to get all sloppy and emotional on us that he practically cancels himself out. Houston has her beauty and her witchy wiles but her emotions seem synthetic--and probably not on purpose.

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What’s surprising about “The Bodyguard” is that, despite everything that’s wrong with it, it still keeps you watching. Maybe it’s because of everything that’s wrong with it. This is the kind of movie where the hero drinks only orange juice, which means we’re primed for the moment when things get really bad and he mixes in a little vodka.

There’s a classic camp moment when, alone at last in Frank’s cruddy apartment, Rachel unsheathes his samurai sword and slowly slinks toward him blade-first. There’s a grand finale at the Oscars show and it’s just as gaudy and self-congratulatory a piece of Hollywood hubbub as you might have hoped for.

“The Bodyguard” might be funny, intentionally or no, but it’s rarely scary. Perhaps this is because the action is mostly seen from Frank’s point of view, and Frank is never scared. The only thing that scares Frank is not being there when someone takes a pot-shot at one of his clients, which is why he harbors a gnawing regret for the one time he was out of the Beltway when Reagan was shot. (At times Costner may remind you of his Jim Garrison in “JFK,” which makes the presidential assassination lore in this film seem cross-wired.)

Frank may seem to be the ultimate romantic because he is--literally--willing to die for you. But he’s such a joyless mope that we never figure out if he’s also willing to live for you. The movie never offers a clue. “The Bodyguard” never lets down its guard.

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‘The Bodyguard’ Kevin Costner Frank Farmer Whitney Houston Rachel Marron Ralph Waite Herb Farmer

A Warner Bros. presentation of a TIG production. Director Mick Jackson. Producers Lawrence Kasdan, Jim Wlson and Kevin Costner. Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan. Cinematographer Andrew Dunn. Editor Richard A. Harris. Costumes San Nininger. Music Alan Silvestri. Production design Jeffrey Beecroft. William Ladd Skinner. Set designers Antoinette J. Gordon and Roy Barnes. Set decorator Lisa Dean. Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes.

MPAA-rated R (language).


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