By Ty Burr
July 16, 1993 at 04:00 AM EDT

One of the contemporary myths that Hollywood loves to sell is the rosy notion that blacks and whites can get along if they just drop their respective cultural luggage and accept each other as people. Like most myths, it’s a nice ideal. And like most myths, it ignores root causes and complexities, wallpapering over untidy cultural crevices and bumpy spots with the broad brush of hope. Of course, if you want the facts, rent a documentary- Hollywood movies are mostly interested in the good news. From the jail-house pairing of 1958’s The Defiant Ones to the black-and-white friendships of the more recent Driving Miss Daisy and Grand Canyon, mainstream films have dismissed racial differences with handshakes and hugs. And kisses-but only occasionally. The idea of two people of different races having sex has always made the studios skittish, loath as they are to jeopardize earnings in the more conservative areas of the country. Lately, though, there has been a shift in attitude. Whoopi Goldberg didn’t kiss Jonathan Pryce at the end of 1986’s Jumpin’ Jack Flash, but she and Ted Danson are plenty frisky in the current Made in America. In 1991’s Jungle Fever, Spike Lee opened up this can and let the worms crawl where they might. And two recent theatrical releases now on video, Love Field (1992, Orion, PG-13, $94.98) and The Bodyguard (1992, Warner, R, $99.99), would seem to depict interracial love with a straightforwardness that would have been unthinkable five years earlier. Actually, though, both films merely hide their compromises just out of sight. At first glance, the civil rights-era Deep South setting serves to heighten Love Field’s surface tension. Runaway wife Lurene Hallett (Michelle Pfeiffer in a fussy, though Oscar-nominated, performance) heads north with chance acquaintance Paul Cater (Dennis Haysbert, earnest and one note) and his daughter, Jonell (Stephanie McFadden). Antagonism grows into attraction-a dangerous thing, given the no-neck back roads they’re forced to travel after a gaffe by Lurene puts them on the run from the law. Yet setting Love Field 30 years ago also puts it at a safe remove, in an era that paradoxically seemed a simpler time for race relations-to mainstream white culture, at least. To their credit, director Jonathan Kaplan (Unlawful Entry) and screenwriter Don Roos play with some of those old assumptions: They make Paul leery of ditsy Lurene and the good intentions she absorbed from the just-assassinated President Kennedy. Even so, the movie remains self- consciously nostalgic for those same intentions. And it begins to part with reality around the time the couple make love in a barn while cops search everywhere for them. You don’t buy it-it seems suicidal on Paul’s part-so the scene works only as Hollywood wishful thinking touched with a vague tang of racial condescension. The Bodyguard takes a tack that couldn’t be more different: Not once does it refer to the color of Kevin Costner’s and Whitney Houston’s skin. This is partly why most critics slagged the movie as unrealistic tripe. They missed the point, though; The Bodyguard works because it’s unrealistic tripe, a good, soggy Hollywood melodrama that plays perfectly fair by the rules of its genre. Costner nicely plays off his own blandness as the uptight security expert hired to protect a pop star from a stalker, while Houston retains the pleasant, squeaky-clean charisma of her videos. Director Mick Jackson (L.A. Story) pushes all the right buttons-he gives us love, sex, death, and costumes-and he never mucks it up by stopping to ask what it all means. What it all means is that the public has no problem accepting interracial love as long as the question of race is avoided (and if the lovers are as sexually unthreatening as these two). Perhaps it wouldn’t work that way in real life (and who knows-perhaps it might), but The Bodyguard’s mum’s-the-word optimism is alluring. The movie’s dumb strength is that it’s not even skin- deep. Love Field: C+ The Bodyguard: B-