Guarding Tess (1994)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Guarding Tess</strong> (1994)

(In French, On Cable TV, December 2018) There’s a whole slew of apolitical politics-adjacent American movies out there, and Guarding Tess has one of the strangest hooks of them all—Nicolas Cage as a Secret Service agent assigned to an exasperating detail as he’s in charge of protecting a widowed First Lady living in a small town. She (played by Shirley MacLaine) often considers her security detail undistinguishable from her serving staff. You can imagine the rest, including a third-act thriller that runs at odds with the generally comic tone of the film up to that point. Of course the secret agent and former first lady will make up and learn lessons about each other—that’s not the point of the film. What Guarding Tess has in abundance is Cage playing off MacLaine, pokes at the reality of a Secret Service team assigned to what they consider to be a dead-end posting, and the minutia of such an arrangement. There’s a real genre twist thirty minutes before the end of the movie as the former first lady is kidnapped, buried underground and then Nicolas Cage has to shoot a toe off a suspect for him to confess the crime. Somehow this ended up in a comedy, but it feels a bit more natural in the movie than described like this. (After all, what would be the point of a security detail if there wasn’t a threat to their client at some point?) I still liked it, but Guarding Tess is almost the very definition of a movie that you shouldn’t watch if there’s anything more pressing to do.

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