My Bodyguard

Dir: Tony Bill, 1980. Starring: Chris Makepeace, Adam Baldwin, Matt Dillon, Martin Mull, Ruth Gordon. Drama.
My Bodyguard

Before the success of Fast Times At Ridgemont HIgh and John Hughes’ condescending acne epics, the teen movie genre barely existed. In the late 1970s, the early teen years were usually either scary (Over The Edge) or whimsical (A Little Romance). The terrific film, My Bodyguard, manages to combine both and then split the difference. Journeyman actor Tony Bill made a very effective directing debut with My Bodyguard, it’s now considered a minor classic of the teen genre. He would follow it up with the awful Dudley Moore/Mary Tyler Moore weeper, Six Weeks, but then redeem himself with the interesting cult flick, Five Corners. Since then he has become a reliable TV director.

Clifford Peache is a typical teen movie nerd - shy, sensitive, and unpretentious (played by Chris Makepeace who did an even wimpier version of this character a year earlier in Meatballs). Clifford’s father manages a fancy Chicago hotel where he lives with his kooky Grandma (played by Martin Mull and Ruth Gordon, their eccentricities are a little sitcomy and are the least memorable parts of the film). The good stuff happens at school where Clifford, the new kid, gets off to a rocky start with the resident bully, Moody (Matt Dillon), who continues to sadistically harass Clifford and the other school nerds. One kid at school has even the bullies spooked, Ricky Linderman (Adam Baldwin), a hulking outcast who was said to have killed his brother. After Clifford learns from a teacher that his brother died by accident, he begins to stalk Ricky, eventually employing him as his bodyguard against Moody. The two end up bonding and help each other become better people and all that.

Though Adam Baldwin gives a nice performance as the kindly giant (surprisingly, he is not part of the Alec Balwin brood, later he was in Full Metal Jacket, among many films), the most memorable aspect of My Bodyguard is the performance by the bully, Matt Dillon. Fresh off his first two films, playing another punk kid in Over The Edge and a teen heartthrob in the adolescent summer camp sex-comedy, Little Darlings (still not available on DVD. Perfect for the Criterion Collection?). As Moody, Dillon has enough smarm and cockiness to be genuinely scary, but he also has enough charm to believe him getting away with being the school terrorist. Unlike Timothy Van Patton who a few years later would create an even more psychotic school bully in Class Of 1984, Dillon never feels like an actor playing for effect. In these early films Dillon always managed to come off as a kid they just happened to find on the streets.

Dillon would go on to dominate teen tough guy roles for the next decade. His exposure would get to the next level with the film adaptations of the S.E. Hinton trilogy of Tex, The Outsiders, and Rumble Fish. Though in Rumble Fish, under Francis Ford Coppola’s heavy-handed direction and sharing the screen with Mickey Rourke, Dillon may not have had the acting chops at that time to bring the complexity that the role required. He continued to grow and challenge himself as an actor shining in comedies (There’s Something About Mary, The Flamingo Kid); playing drugies (Drugstore Cowboy); and charming schulbs (To Die For), but all his characters still have an echo of creep in them. And he’s usually been most successful at continuing to be unlikable, even in bad films like the overrated Crash (for which he’s gotten his one Oscar nomination). It’s fun with My Bodyguard to see the genesis of what Dillon’s continued to do for the last 30-something years begin to form.

A few years later The Karate Kid would be another underdog taking on the mean kids, but where that film’s heart felt forced, My Bodyguard feels totally truthful. The rapport between Makepeace and Baldwin is both charming and moving. The group of kids who make up their circle, including Paul Quandt as an ultra wimp who spends his time cowering not to be noticed by the bullies, a very young Joan Cusack, and an uncredited Jennifer Beals, all lend authenticity to these teens' ordeals. My Bodyguard didn’t have a sequel, didn’t franchise itself, and mercifully hasn’t been remade. But generations later it still has the ability to move its audience because as long as there are teen bullies and teen victims who dream of the ultimate revenge, My Bodyguard will always be relevant.

Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Feb 21, 2011 2:37pm
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