Poor Rachel Marron! Arriving at the Academy Awards, Rachel (Whitney Houston), a ravishing pop-singer-turned-actress, eases out of her limo and beams a smile at the adoring crowd. She is one of the five nominees for Best Actress; by all rights, this should be the evening of her life. Instead, it’s her nightmare. An obsessive fan has been sending her letters — creepy threats done in the magazine-cutout style of ransom notes. Tonight, she knows he’s going to strike.

Fortunately, Rachel has a savior. Frank Farmer (Kevin Costner), her new bodyguard, is her knight in worsted gray armor. A former Secret Service agent who has worked for two presidents, Frank has been hired to protect Rachel from this deranged nuisance. Naturally, the two fall in love. Frank, though, has discovered that he can’t be her partner and protector at the same time. And, so, after a night of passion, he has withdrawn into his stoic bodyguard role. Poor Rachel Marron! She has found her shining prince, but he can’t return her feelings. Now, as the stalker looms, she faces the unthinkable. Just imagine: to be gorgeous, talented, adored, and to die — live and on camera, at the Oscars!

Here, at last, is a princess fantasy to make Cinderella jealous. Based on a script that Lawrence Kasdan (Grand Canyon) wrote nearly 20 years ago and would have been wise to leave in his bottom drawer, The Bodyguard is an outrageous piece of saccharine kitsch — or, at least, it might have been had the movie seemed fully awake. Instead, it’s glossy yet slack; it’s like Flashdance without the hyperkinetic musical numbers and with the romance padded out to a disastrously languid 2 hours and 10 minutes.

To say that Houston and Costner fail to strike sparks would be putting it mildly. The two barely seem to be in the same room — the movie is like a discordant duet between their superstar auras. Houston, the Olympian pop-soul diva, has moments of quickness and humor; she shows more thespian flair than many musicians. Her presence, though, is defined by the same glassy perfection that makes her singing, for all its virtuosity, seem fundamentally anonymous. Whitney Houston is a diamond without flaws: Her cat-faced Mayan beauty is like a mask, and beneath it one never senses a glimmer of vulnerability, pain, doubt. She doesn’t seem to need another human being to complete her (that’s true on her albums, too-she makes love to her own vocal chords), and in a romantic drama that’s fatal. Costner, by contrast, is in his gruff, passive, if-I-just-say-the-lines-as-though-I’m-bored-I’ll-look-macho mode. His performance might seem utterly dull were it not for his medieval-monk haircut, which just about martyrs his handsomeness. You can bet this won’t be starting any fashion trends.

The Bodyguard is riddled with soap-opera idiocies, from Rachel’s madly jealous sister (Michele Lamar Richards) to Frank’s big guilt complex (he was off duty the day Reagan was shot and still hasn’t forgiven himself) to the hilariously el-cheapo re-creation of the Oscars. Mostly, though, the movie gives us these two self-contained celebrity icons working hard to look as if they want each other. It’s like watching two statues attempting to mate. D

The Bodyguard
  • Movie
  • 130 minutes