Dave Grusin's jazzy, string-flecked score hits me first every time I see My Bodyguard. It takes me back to 1980 instantly and I am happy for it. It's bouncy, joyful, mopey, and erudite. It exemplifies Chicago--where this movie was filmed--all in a few bars. In fact, the only things that remind me of Chicago more than My Bodyguard are John Hughes movies, The Bob Newhart Show, and...Chicago. Chris Makepeace, here playing the teen who acquires special protection from the school bullies threatening him, had one good period as a film moppet--1979-1980. With My Bodyguard and the Bill Murray vehicle Meatballs, he got his tow-headed mug in front of a lot of young moviegoers that year. But I think his crazy-unruly hair and his intensely serious face likely hurt his further progression. Even though Makepeace was fine in both films, most kids (then, at least) preferred their on-screen counterparts to NOT look like they'd be good at chess.
Matt Dillon brings his usual roughneck energy to Moody, the lead bully. This means he commands the screen, and this is only his second movie (after the memorable cult hit Over The Edge). His bathroom torture of Cliff, for instance, stops the movie; he yells unexpectedly, slams the kid against the wall, takes deadly aim with a giant spitball, and keeps his stare going straight into Clifford's soul. Tight-shirted, hair slicked back, aviator glasses on, he's the epitome of the asshole that everyone wanted to avoid, in school or out.
Then there's Adam Baldwin. As Ricky, the hulkster that Clifford hires to be his bodyguard, he is smudged and shell-shocked. His size and inner rage are great, but look at those big eyes and you can see this guy's a lover, not a fighter. Baldwin (who is not, I repeat, not one of the Baldwin brothers) would graduate into playing full-time warriors like Animal Mother in Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket and as the gruffest member of the crew in the sadly short-lived Joss Whedon series Firefly. He still has a believeable gentleness about him, I think.
One kid here, redheaded Paul Quandt, never made a movie again, but he stands out as a screen presense. As Carson, Cliff's acerbic classmate with a scientific interest in the gum stuck under the desks, Quandt is certainly the one child actor participating whom you WILL NOT forget. And it goes on, this cast: look closely and you'll see Joan Cusack debuting as one of Cliff's most sympathetic buddies (the Cusack family is famous for their Chicago acting school). Look real close and you'll see glimpses of a pre-Flashdance Jennifer Beals. And, of course, you have the adults: an understated Martin Mull as Cliff's hotel manager dad, Kathryn Grody as his concerned teacher, and best of all, Ruth Gordon as his rowdy grandmother (what other kind of maternal figure did Gordon play?). I look forward to Gordon's scenes with Makepeace. They genuinely look like they're having fun (like when she surprises him exclaiming "Bats!" "Bats!" and flapping newspapers in his face). When they talk about the smell of a new book, or when Gordon calls someone a "greasy wimp" and Makepeace can't hold back a chortle--this is all very real stuff.
The writer, Alan Ormsby, never betrayed that he'd something this sweet in him, having been previously most famous for collaborating with Bob Clark on Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things and Deranged. And director Tony Bill--a former actor-turned-producer (The Sting, Taxi Driver, Close Encounters of the Third Kind)--captures the freedom of youth and of standing your ground with equal parts honesty and good old fashioned corn (I can like me a corny movie, I have to admit). Bill has sheaperded a lot of films to us the past 35 years, most recently the 2007 WWI aviator epic Flyboys. But none have stuck with me like My Bodyguard. It has punch and punch is enough.