**½/**** Image B Sound B
starring Chris Makepeace, Matt Dillon, John Houseman, Adam Baldwin
screenplay by Alan Ormsby
directed by Tony Bill
by Bill Chambers My Bodyguard, not to be confused with the sudsy Costner-Huston thriller The Bodyguard, has been described to me as "the ultimate bully movie." I won't even toy with the idea that this feature-length Afterschool Special is the best at anything, but the film does have some merit as a teen revenge fantasy. Making his low-key directorial debut, Academy Award-winning producer Tony Bill brings visual grace sans style to this tale of the new kid in school and how he masterminds one bully's downfall through another's redemption.
Fuzzy Chris Makepeace stars as the appropriately named Clifford Peach, a hotel manager's son who transfers from private to public New York schools and, upon refusing to pay classmate Melvin Moody (Matt Dillon) for "protection" (ostensibly against a homicidal peer, but really himself), makes fast enemies of the baby-faced extortionist. A lad with keen instincts for self-preservation, Clifford has a brainstorm: he will hire the student Moody was to protect him from, Ricky (Adam Baldwin, whose glazed expression doesn't always convey the desired restraint), to be his bodyguard, thus putting the fear of God in Moody's crew.
It doesn't take a psychic to guess that the privileged Clifford and the flak-jacketed Ricky are destined to become buds--they're too opposite not to attract. Although Ricky is initially reluctant to befriend Clifford, in no small part because he feels he'd be cheating on his heart by replacing his recently-deceased little brother with the precocious Cliff, he softens up, and soon the two are riding Ricky's vintage motorbike together down the side streets of Manhattan. Screenwriter Alan Ormsby has lifted the skeleton of Robert Cormier's young adult novel The Chocolate War (which Keith Gordon adapted into a terrific motion picture): An adolescent with a dead mother and distant father (Martin Mull) throws off the balance of power at his academic institution by defying a longstanding tradition, and defends his ideals in a big fight. Ricky himself recalls Cormier's creation Emile Janza, a brooding giant with his share of Achilles Heels.
These elements work well in My Bodyguard, as if they're archetypal. Clifford's home life at a posh hotel, where he cares for and is cared for in return by his horny, alcoholic grandmother (Ruth Gordon--who else?), is hardly a welcome respite from the school sequences, alas, with Gordon's iconic Harold and Maude character unfortunately misinforming their dynamic. Yet despite its occasional lapses in taste and judgment, My Bodyguard feels like quality product, and Bill's staging of the climactic fisticuffs, after Moody plays a trump card, has a certain rough-and-tumble integrity to counteract its feel-good idealism.
My Bodyguard arrives on DVD under Fox's Family Feature banner. Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen on one side and in 1.33:1 fullscreen on the reverse, the transfer is inconsistent: Shots miraculous for their subdued grain and controlled video levels are often interrupted by gritty, garish images. Overall, there's no mistaking My Bodyguard for a 22-year-old film here. The remastered Dolby Surround sound is pleasant to the ears, if largely indistinguishable from the original mono mix (also included). The original trailer and five TV spots round out the disc. Originally published: January 30, 2002.