My Bodyguard (1980)

4 May


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“My Bodyguard” is an enjoyable, appealing high-school comedy-drama with quite the engaging premise: a short teenage boy is bullied by a group of thugs at his new high school, so he hires the biggest kid in the class to be his bodyguard. That itself sounds like an appealing idea for a teen movie, but “My Bodyguard” has the heart and soul to progress it even further by adding an interesting development in the friendship that the boy and his “bodyguard” form with each other. This movie could have been just a pleasant comedy; it’s more than that.

The hero of “My Bodyguard” is fifteen-year-old Clifford Peache (Chris Makepeace), a regular kid. He’s shy, small for his age, and normal…which doesn’t make him very popular at his new high school. On his first day, he is immediately the target of the campus wise-guy, Moody (Matt Dillon), and his cohorts who threaten students for a dollar each day. Moody puts it this way—one dollar each day gives them reason to protect them from the dreaded Ricky Linderman (Adam Baldwin), the school’s hulking, most whispered-about, feared kid who is said to have raped a teacher, killed a cop, poked out some guy’s eyes, etc. Clifford sees right through the bull, and refuses to pay. Thus, the bullies make school miserable for him.

Once Clifford notices that Moody is actually intimidated by Linderman himself, Clifford gets the idea to pay him some money to be his bodyguard. After more torture from the bullies, Linderman finally shows some sympathy and, in one of the film’s best scenes, humiliates Moody with the mere presence of him and Clifford standing together, in front of all their classmates.

You could call that the end of Movie 1. In Movie 2, we see more of Clifford and Linderman as they develop a nice friendship together. At first, Linderman just wants the kid to go away and leave him alone. But Clifford wants to know more about the guy and why he’s so closed off from everybody else in school. Eventually though, they do become friends as they hang out together and talk about some past experiences. They even find the missing part Linderman needed for his broken-down motorcycle, after a year of searching (and they ride through the city of New York together). There is a tragic incident dangling in the background, however, as Clifford learns that the death of Linderman’s younger brother may or may not have been his fault. Either way, he learns this is why he alienates himself from everybody, and because of his appearance, his peers like to share horror stories about him (“I heard…” etc.). And Linderman himself, as it turns out, isn’t much good in a fight. Later in the movie, Moody hires his own bodyguard who is about the size of Linderman, and Linderman actually chickens out. We get more character development and room for further story details as the movie continues.

But in the end, you know the drill—the two “bodyguards” will finally square off against each other in a fistfight, and so will Clifford and Moody. It’s pretty easy to predict the outcome, but that doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy seeing the bullies get their comeuppance.

If there’s one thing about “My Bodyguard” that really doesn’t work, and practically kills the movie for a good few minutes every time it appears, it’s every scene set in the hotel where Clifford lives and where his dad (Martin Mull) works as a manager. And it’s also where we get the most unnecessary character in the movie—Clifford’s wild, young-for-her-age grandmother (Ruth Gordon) who constantly hits on younger men, gets drunk, delivers one-liners, and pretty much annoyed me every time she showed up. Why is she in this movie? She adds nothing to the story, except teaching Linderman and Clifford “palm-reading” which has no payoff except they can show their friends how to do it.

With the exception of that constant distraction, “My Bodyguard” gets his pleasurable moments from the scenes involving the kids. The kids and their high-school adventures are appealing and fun to watch, with sharp writing and good acting. Chris Makepeace is very likeable; Adam Baldwin is solid as Linderman; Matt Dillon is suitably creepy; and there’s also Paul Quandt as Clifford’s rumor-spewing classroom buddy and Joan Cusack as braces-sporting nice-girl Shelly. They all do very good work here.

“My Bodyguard” is a lighthearted, pleasant comedy that has only one troublesome distraction. I’m serious—take out the Ruth Gordon character, and you’ve got a great movie. For the most part, it’s fun, enjoyable, and amusing.

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