Retro Streaming: #9 Guarding Tess (1994) – Secretly Enjoyable Service

Synopsis: A former First Lady (Shirley MacLaine) wants a particular Secret Service agent (Nicolas Cage) to head her bodyguard detail, even though he can’t stand her.

My Take

“From the man who brought you Police Academy and”…….stop right there. Sold. Line me up.


Sly in Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot. Arnie was a kindergarten teacher. Hulk Hogan playing Mr Nanny. The 90’s saw a string of sweet comedies where hard movie stars (and Hulk Hogan) showed their softer sides. Add to that list Nic Cage playing a stoic and by the numbers Secret Service Agent guarding a cantankerous old battleaxe of a First Lady played by Shirley MacLaine.

It sounds terrible. It should be terrible. Thing is though….I really enjoyed it.

Given the parody of himself that Nic Cage has become in recent years, with a reputation for accepting almost any role that comes his way to pay off his huge tax bill, this is the kind of storyline I would expect him to knock out now. And I was surprised he made it when he did to be honest. 1994 was prior to his Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas and before his mega star making action trio of The Rock, Face/Off and Con Air, but he was still a serious actor with the likes of Raising Arizona, Red Rock West and Wild At Heart under his belt.

On paper it should have been awful. In the wrong hands it could have been a lot worse than it actually was. But with two enjoyable leads in Cage and MacLaine, rather than the sickly family comedy it could have been, what you actually get is a heartfelt and warm drama with enough barb, wit and genuine charm to stem the saccharine.

Much like the former First Lady she portrays in Guarding Tess, Shirley MacLaine is a national treasure. This is the second time I have seen her play a bitter, sharp, WASPish recluse (previously in 2011’s Bernie) and I don’t know that anyone of her generation does it better. Some of the early back and forths between her and Cage’s by the books Agent Doug Chesnic are brilliant, in particular as she patronisingly makes him explain why he is a Special Agent In Charge “no less”. Cage, never one to let a movie pass without doing crazy eyes, keeps it reigned in for 90% of the time but can’t help now and then doing the Cage Crazy Shout. In  particular when doing an unusual hospital based interrogation.

There’s little original here and it feels 20 years old. You’ll see the ending coming a mile off and at times it feels a little slow to be going anywhere. But as far as Sunday Nicolas Cage viewing goes it was a surprising little watch. It was also nice to see recently passed British national treasure Richard Griffiths in a suitable supporting role as a posh chef.

Verdict: 7/10


Taglines: A comedy beyond the call of duty

Director/Writer: Hugh Wilson – Writer/Director of Police Academy. What a legend. And, even more impressively none of the follow ups. Got in, got out while the getting was good. Also wrote Down Periscope (so not all good) and half-decent Brendan Fraser comedy Blast From The Past. He is the king of the gentle comedy.

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Shirley MacLaine, Richard Griffiths, Austin Pendleton, James Rebhorn


  • George Clooney auditioned for just one line in this movie but it never made it to the screen.
  • The voice of the president was provided by writer and director, Hugh Wilson.

Streaming on Netflix


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