Thursday 1 July 2021

Movie Review: Guarding Tess (1994)

A tepid comedy about lonely people seeking human connections, Guarding Tess flounders for a purpose before deflating into an incongruous final act.

In a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, Secret Service Agent Doug Chesnic (Nicolas Cage) cannot wait for the end of his three year stint in charge of security for former First Lady Tess Carlisle (Shirley MacLaine). But to his surprise she demands his return for another three years, and he reluctantly agrees. Tess is popular with the public but generally a recluse, although she now starts venturing out more often, including to attend an opera.

But her greatest joy is treating Doug and his team like her personal servants, ordering them to perform menial tasks or sending them into a frenzy by escaping their supervision with her loyal driver Earl (Austin Pendleton). After several showdowns Doug and Tess arrive at a truce, but a shock awaits.

Directed and co-written by Hugh Wilson, Guarding Tess features a flimsy and underdeveloped premise, essentially one idea refusing to evolve. For more than an hour Doug and Tess circle the same drain, as she tests his limits with mean behaviour while he fulminates but then obliges.

Eventually Wilson works his way to Tess expressing oblique references to her regrets as a parent and Doug acknowledging his failed marriage, both wholly inadequate explanations for her haughty nastiness and his docile acquiescence. Then the script chucks away all the human-centred dramedy in favour of a poorly conceived out-of-nowhere kidnapping plot. 

MacLaine and Cage do their best but cannot overcome a witless script floundering between bland humour and amateur psychology about lonely people seeking any relationship they can find. Instead of injecting some spirit, the secondary characters are non-entities. Doug has a team of support agents and Tess has a house full of servants, and not one of them is provided with a personality beyond cartoonish representations.

Guarding Tess is a duty best abandoned.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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