Guarding Tess

(Hugh Wilson, USA, 1994)


Comedies of servitude can be tough to take. Call it the Driving Miss Daisy (1989) syndrome: painfully sentimental tales of the relationship between master and servant, where the two learn to love and respect each other so deeply that, at a pinch, they can set aside their respective roles and treat each other as human beings …

Unfortunately, such stories tend to be massive apologies for the social status quo rather than pleas for bloody class revolution.

Guarding Tess is in the apologetic mode. Doug (Nicolas Cage) has had his fill of serving Tess (Shirley MacLaine), who is publicly a beloved political widow but privately a morose terror. But his dream of becoming a gun-wielding, heroic cop is unexpectedly cut short when Tess appeals to the President himself to have Doug returned as her guardian.

Two thirds of the movie is devoted to the low-level comedy of this odd couple – bickering, playing power games with one another, clashing in their lifestyles and cultural tastes (she’s into opera, he’s into Mister Ed). The other third attempts to introduce a serious, even thrilling element, when Tess is kidnapped and Doug gets to play bad-ass cop after all in the frantic effort to save her life.

But the drama is no more affecting than the humour in this fatally twee and conservative film.

© Adrian Martin November 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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