A schoolyard bully gets his comeuppance.
There's something that always seems right about an underdog defying authority, overcoming impossible odds, and coming out on top. It was good for The Bad News Bears, The Mighty Ducks, Rocky and just about every other sports movie that's ever been made. Of course this doesn't necessarily always apply to sports movies, as we see with My Bodyguard, which has been released on DVD under Fox's "Family Feature" product line.
Facts of the Case
The unfortunately named Clifford Peach (Chris Makepeace—Meatballs) seems to have a pretty good life. His dad (Martin Mull—Jingle All the Way) runs a hotel that Clifford gets to live in, meaning he pretty much has the run of the place. His Gramma (Ruth Gordon—Every Which Way But Loose, Harold And Maude) is a drunken, foul-mouthed flirt (old people swearing is funny). And he gets to start attending a new school. The only real problem is that he runs afoul of the school bully, Melvin Moody (Matt Dillon—There's Something About Mary). Frankly if you're going to name your child Melvin Moody he pretty much only has two career options—schoolyard bully and professional wrestler, so this really should come as no surprise that Melvin has been thrust into this horribly stereotypical role, but I digress. It seems that Melvin wants a dollar a day for protection, but Clifford decides that he'd rather keep his lunch money instead of his teeth, with the irony being that his lunch money would do him little good without being able to chew it. Constantly antagonized by Moody and his gang of ruffians and ne'er-do-wells, Clifford befriends a number of Melvin's other victims, which I only mention because one of them is portrayed by a very young Joan Cusack (Grosse Pointe Blank, Toy Story 2). Clifford soon learns that everyone in the school, including Melvin, fears Ricky Linderman (Adam Baldwin—The Patriot), a gargantuan mutant freak of a child who supposedly did all sorts of horrible things like killing police officers, eating his brother, shooting his dad, raping a teacher, and removing the mattress tags that say you shouldn't remove them. This has made him something of an unspeakable legend at the school.
Once learning this, Clifford takes on the daring (read: "not too brilliant") task of following Linderman around and hoping that he can help dissuade Moody from punching him and the other kids in the stomach. For some reason Linderman agrees and Moody decides to back off from the whole bullying business, instead deciding to make a career out of brooding, sneering, and plotting revenge.
As time passes Clifford and Linderman become unlikely friends, but the fragile peace is broken when Moody gets his own bodyguard, Mike (Hank Salas), another freakish mutant goon who specializes in intimidation and repeatedly saying, "You some kinda tough-a guy? Huh?" This new threat will require Linderman and Clifford both to face their fears and beat the tar out of their would-be oppressors.
When I was a wee lad growing up in Maine, this movie was considered all the rage. And let's face facts here, it has all the elements a younger audience will enjoy. Most people knew of a schoolyard bully when they were younger and always hoped bad and awful things would befoul the bully and maybe even his family (not that I would know from experience, mind you). So it should really come as no surprise that a film built around the defeat and humiliation of a bully would be something a younger audience would appreciate. All of the elements of the aforementioned underdog overcoming a tremendous obstacle are here, so what's not to like? The only thing I can really say is that in some ways the movie has not aged very well due to the late '70s fashions and styles present here, but the story is basic enough that it's pretty much timeless. I'll stop short of calling this one a "classic," since I came away with different feelings now that I'm all grown up. It was almost one of those cases where I kind of wish I'd never seen this film again, but now the fond memories feel kind of old and stale, like a muffin that's left out on the counter for a few days.
The acting in the film is actually pretty decent. I don't believe young Makepeace ever made a career for himself, but he seemed to be a decent child actor at one point. Baldwin does fine as the quiet and withdrawn Linderman, and Cusack hits the marks she needs to. Of special note is Matt Dillon, who plays a truly evil but cowardly character. Every moment he's on the screen he also seems to ooze a permeating sense of creepiness, and I don't mean creepy in a "Corey Haim and Corey Feldman as the Frog Brothers" kind of creepy. You actually get the sense that this guy would grow up and aspire to do ten to twenty at Sing-Sing.
Fox has marked My Bodyguard as one of their "Family Feature" DVDs, with "Family Feature" seemingly translating into "We're not going to pay a lot for this anamorphic transfer." There's a great deal of graininess and artifacting throughout the film, though it seems to be more prevalent towards the beginning of the DVD. I would also hazard a guess that the master print was home to a good many dust bunnies, some of which can be seen on the transfer, especially during the opening credits. The problems more or less sort themselves out as My Bodyguard continues, and the colors on the DVD seem to be clean enough with more or less proper flesh tones and blacks. I should also point out that my DVD player (a Sony DVP S-500D) had severe problems with the layer change, which caused the picture and sound to freeze for about five seconds, and severe pixelization and some skipping followed this. I was able to repeat this effect after cleaning the DVD, and I have not tried this DVD on another player. The audio transfer is a 2.0 stereo mix that is really very flat and unengaging. Since this film was made over 20 years ago, I can't say I was expecting much. For extra features, Fox has provided the theatrical trailer and five brief television spots. If this isn't a "bargain" DVD, I don't know what is.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There's a whole subplot involving Clifford's father and a greedy, career-minded assistant manager at the hotel who tries to blow the whistle on the fact that Clifford's Gramma is making a mess of things at the hotel. Ruth Gordon is a pretty funny lady, but her sass and verve seem to be overplayed and pretty much misused here. It would seem director Tony Bill was trying to capitalize on her role of Ma Boggs from Every Which Way But Loose. Yeah, old people swearing and drinking and having sex might be comedy, but it just doesn't work very well here. This whole subplot was a horrible cliché that's better forgotten.
I should also point out that My Bodyguard managed to unleash yet another Baldwin on us. How many of these guys are there? I get the feeling I couldn't throw a rock without hitting a Baldwin.
I could also go on mention that My Bodyguard serves as a solid allegory for the Cold War and the build up nuclear arsenals for détente. But I won't because this is DVDVerdict.com, not Rolling Stone magazine.
Could Matt Dillon seriously have been any creepier in this film? Can I get a ruling on this?
All in all My Bodyguard is a mostly harmless film with a solid, uplifting (if uncomplicated) story. Unfortunately, it just hasn't necessarily aged too well in the last 20 years, but I can hardly fault a film for that. If you're feeling sentimental about the film, you might be disappointed with the presentation Fox has given us, but I seriously doubt we'll be seeing a two-disc Special Edition at any time in the future.
Due to fond childhood memories, I'm going to offer a verdict of not-guilty for My Bodyguard, but I will find Fox guilty of a pretty lousy digital transfer.
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