Whitney Houston's first acting role was a good fit: She played international music and film superstar Rachel Marron, a vulnerable diva whose life was threatened by a crazed fan, alongside Kevin Costner as her tireless protector in Director Mick Jackson's The Bodyguard. Critics were not kind to the film, but it raked in over $400 million in worldwide receipts and its soundtrack, anchored by Houston's rendition of "I Will Always Love You," became the best-selling soundtrack in history. Houston died of a heart attack in February, but The Bodyguard captures a young, lively Houston unaffected by the tabloids and her later substance abuse. Nostalgic fans may turn to The Bodyguard for comfort, but the film, despite committed performances from Houston and Costner, is melodramatic fluff.
After Rachel receives death threats and an intruder breaches her alarm system, her camp hires Frank Farmer (Costner), a former Secret Service agent who guarded presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, to take charge of Rachel's security. Rachel is instantly opposed, fearing Frank's methods will disrupt her life and frighten her young son, Fletcher (DeVaughn Nixon). Rachel's sister, Nikki (Michele Lamar Richards), and manager, Devaney (Bill Cobbs), convince her that Frank is a necessary evil. Soon after, Frank learns that Rachel's team has kept much from Rachel, including evidence that someone broke into her house and defiled her bed. Frank gets to work setting up new security protocols, and builds relationships with Fletcher and various other hangers-on.
The Bodyguard has a reputation for being a torrid love story between Rachel and Frank, but this is only partly true. Rachel playfully tells Frank that he will have to take her out on a date since he will not allow her to hang out with any strange guys. This relationship lasts until breakfast the next morning, when Frank realizes he cannot guard Rachel if he continues to lust after her. Rachel feels scorned, and begins acting out by purposely ignoring Frank's guidance. The film then moves onto daytime cable drama as the death threats continue, and Frank gives chase to a suspicious SUV trolling around Rachel's house.
The twists and turns and ultimate revelations in The Bodyguard border on ludicrous. The Bodyguard feels very much like a product of the '90s, complete with smoky visuals, Spartan character development and many unresolved red herrings. The film doesn't even try to give Frank and Rachel any depth. Everything you need to know about them can be summed up in one sentence. It is easy to understand why Frank initially finds Rachel spoiled and oblivious. Rachel has so many actors around her doing her bidding that she can scarcely sneak off to the restroom without an escort. Frank seems to have some regret about his performance in the Secret Service, although the cause is never revealed. Rachel has a young son, but nothing in her past is ever discussed. If anything, Rachel seems a bit childish and naive, which probably was true of Houston, too.
Costner always puts in the effort, even when the material is less than stellar, so his performance here is no less than serviceable. Houston's work is decent, and she excels during the few scenes where her character gets to sing, dance and entertain an audience. It can be difficult to watch Houston knowing her ultimate fate, but here she at least seems happy. Jackson's (Volcano) direction is average, and he allows The Bodyguard to sag in the middle. The film's bloated 129-minute running time should have been trimmed to heighten the tension and get to the big reveal more quickly.
The Bodyguard is most memorable for its soundtrack, and the film uses many of Houston's songs during pivotal scenes, including "I Have Nothing" and "I'm Every Woman." In one funny scene, Rachel overhears a country version of "I Will Always Love You" on a jukebox and asks Frank if he realizes how depressing the lyrics are. Such brief introspective moments are few and far between in The Bodyguard, but provide welcome levity. Houston leaves behind a legacy of much-loved music in death, and, while The Bodyguard is nowhere near the top of her resume, it is comfortably entertaining.
Little about Warner Brothers' 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer screams high-definition. I would call it a quick cash-in on Houston's death if I did not know it had been scheduled for release on Blu-ray before the singer's passing. The transfer appears quite murky and dingy throughout much of the film. Some of this may be caused by Jackson's hazy, dimly lit sets, but the transfer has a number of issues. Fine detail is limited, and, while the image is mostly clear of print defects, everything has a flat, soft appearance. Skin tones are OK, but facial features tend to exhibit a smudgy, ill-defined look. The transfer retains a layer of grain that adds to the film-like appearance, but some darker shots actually appear quite noisy. Black levels are decent, but black crush is a problem in darker scenes. I also noticed some image movement, which may be telecine wobble. While watching The Bodyguard in high-definition, I couldn't help but think it looked little better than an upscaled DVD.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack fares a bit better than the image, but is not especially impressive. Although dialogue is perfectly audible, the mix sounds anemic. Most of the action is relegated to the front speakers, and only rarely do the surrounds come to life. Houston's vocals are a big part of the film's appeal, but her songs are weakly mixed and sound unbalanced and front-heavy. Gunfire and car-chase effects do work their way into the rear speakers, but they are mixed too loudly. Range is mediocre, and you may find yourself reaching for the remote to turn up quiet scenes and turn down louder ones. Fans looking for impressive, HD-quality tracks by Houston may be disappointed. A host of secondary audio tracks are available, including a Russian 5.1 Dolby Digital track and French, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese, Czech and Polish 2.0 Dolby Digital tracks. English SDH, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Polish, Russian and Swedish subtitles are also available.
The bonus features mirror those available on the 2005 "Deluxe Edition" DVD. Memories of The Bodyguard (26:43/SD) is a retrospective documentary about the film that includes interviews with the cast and crew. Most of these interviews were shot around 2005, though Houston's footage is likely from 1992 when the film was released. This is a decent enough piece, but it can only cover so much in its brief running time. Also included are the Music Video for "I Will Always Love You" (4:36/SD) and the film's theatrical trailer (1:57/SD). Perhaps another edition with more features and a documentary on Houston's life will come out in a few years.
The Bodyguard is little more than cable-television drama, but fans of the late R&B singer Whitney Houston will likely enjoy her acting debut. Houston plays diva Rachel Marron, who calls on Kevin Costner's Frank Farmer for protection from a crazed fan. The pair has a brief affair that is overshadowed by turbulent events in the singer's life. The Bodyguard's high-definition debut is not particularly impressive, as the Blu-ray features very mediocre picture and so-so sound. Rent It.
William lives in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.