Note: While I'm on vacation, please enjoy a double-dose of 1980 movies with two weeks of brand-new posts about the year that brought the '70s to a close. Included in this super-sized batch of 1980 reviews are two movies recently requested by readers. Regular reviews of 1970s features will resume on Monday, July 25. Meantime, keep on keepin' on!
Charming but slight, this crowd-pleaser about a pair of high-school misfits who yank each other from their doldrums was the promising directorial debut of actor/producer Tony Bill, whose subsequent output has been merely competent. Seen with hindsight, My Bodyguard is pocked with rough edges, including awkward tonal shifts and threadbare dramatic transitions. However, the endearing work of the two leads blends with an overall humanistic sensibility to cast the movie in a warm glow from start to finish. Therefore, even though the film's basic storyline is a clichéd underdog saga, only the most hard-hearted viewer can resist the pull of My Bodyguard. Set in Chicago, the picture concerns nebbish teenager Clifford Peache (Chris Makepeace), who transfers from a private academy to a tough public school. Clifford's father, Mr. Peache (Martin Mull), is the live-in manager of a posh hotel, but Mr. Peache is forever distracted by the antics of his aging mother. Gramma (Ruth Gordon) is a cheerful eccentric who spends her evenings making outrageous sexual overtures to men in the hotel bar.
Upon arrival at his new school, Clifford recklessly embarrasses the school bully, Moody (Matt Dillon), thereby making a permanent enemy of the punk who shakes down nerds for lunch money. Meanwhile, Clifford becomes aware of a mysterious classmate named Ricky Linderman (Adam Baldwin), who is rumored to have missed school because he murdered someone. Once Clifford meets Ricky, he recognizes a kindred spirit—someone misunderstood for his sensitivity—even though Ricky is physically formidable because he's bigger and older than his peers. After one too many run-ins with Moody and his goons, Clifford hatches a wild idea and hires Ricky to serve as his bodyguard. Although there's little suspense regarding whether the main characters will overcome their differences, somehow it all works.
Whenever Clifford and Ricky celebrate their newfound companionship (as in the climactic scene of a long motorcycle ride through city streets), the effect is genuinely uplifting. Similarly, the final showdown between the heroes and their enemy is as thrilling as it is simplistic. Dave Grusin's robust music keeps the movie energetic and propulsive, while judicious editing (credited to Stu Linder) keeps scenes focused and tight. Yet it’s the performances that make My Bodyguard fly. Dillon and Makepeace, both of whom had just begun their film careers, fill the screen with believable emotions, while Baldwin, in his movie debut, tears into the colorful role of a gentle giant with a traumatic past. Others in the solid cast are John Houseman, playing an enjoyably contrived cameo role, and the very young Jennifer Beals and Joan Cusack, both of whom play dorky students.
My Bodyguard: GROOVY