Guarding Tess (1994)

If Tom Clancy tried to write a sitcom, he'd probably end up with
something like GUARDING TESS-- a horribly misfired comedy about a
by-the-book Secret Service agent assigned to protect a
do-anything-she-wants-to former First Lady.

The set-up seems foolproof: team Shirley MacLaine with Nicolas Cage.
She's cranky presidential widow Tess Carlisle; he's straight-laced
Service man Doug Chesnic. She likes to play golf in thirty-degree
weather; he won't let her ride in her car unless properly seated.

She likes having him around; he wants off the assignment.

With only their age differences precluding any obvious romantic
interest, this story should've scripted itself. After all, the actors
don't need much prodding. MacLaine has already settled into her
post-MADAME SOUSATZKA crotchety character. And nobody, I mean *nobody*,
does a slow-burn better than Nicolas Cage.

So what's the problem?

GUARDING TESS gets off to a bad start. The writers start the story too
late by opening the film at Doug's debriefing. He's finished his
three-year tour-of-duty and wants a more adventurous assignment. The
First Lady has other ideas, though, and, with a phone call to the
president, demands Doug's return.

That bit is fine in terms of plot device-- but it presumes a conflict
that the audience hasn't seen. We don't know what's been going on with
Tess and Doug. We don't know what he's done or what she hasn't. And
without TESS AND DOUG: THE EARLY YEARS to fill us in, the bickering
seems blase.

Of course, the film ignores this technicality and spends about an hour
letting MacLaine and Cage circle each other like toothless sharks. But
the nibbles are few and far between. In fact, the film's scene-stealer
is isn't even in a scene!  That's director Hugh Wilson as the voice of
the president, who's salty tongue chastises Cage in a couple hilarious

Then something terrible happens and GUARDING TESS turns into a drama.

Right at the hour mark, the story gets serious and it's downhill from
there. Plot points start swarming like agents on a president and,
suddenly, nothing's funny anymore.

(Save for the film's one great line that comes at the end.)

In the right context, the drama would've worked wonders. But who can
believe such somber sincerity after an hour of failed frivolity?  Or,
for that matter, Nicolas Cage shooting at people's toes?  The shifting
tone renders GUARDING TESS almost unwatchable.  (Rated "PG-13"/96 min.)

BOTTOM LINE:  Horribly misfired comedy that never recovers from a
radical "tone shift" in mid-film.  Ugh.

Grade: D+

Copyright 1994 by Michael J. Legeros

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