There’s a little gem of an idea in Guarding Tess. The premise has a young, ambitious Secret Service agent (Nicolas Cage) stuck in the thankless job of protecting the widow (Shirley MacLaine) of a US president. Neither truly likes the situation but they like one another, despite constant bickering and endless infractions of protocol.
Aided and abetted by two charismatic performers and an underlying sweetness, the film is indeed likable. But director Hugh Wilson, who co-wrote the script with Peter Torokvei, just skims the surface of potentially rich territory. Comedy, pathos and thrills alternately collide, creating problems in both pacing and developing a consistent tone.
The battle of wills provides pic with its most amusing moments. MacLaine applies her prickliest persona and Cage embodies the ramrod, by-the-books agent.
The problem is that the story develops in the most uninteresting manner. It’s not about power and perception as outlined in Being There (and whose echoes are felt with MacLaine’s presence), and it barely touches the unsettling nature of what reveals itself as essentially a mother-son relationship. Rather, it wanders into the preposterous, shifting and stripping gears when Tess is kidnapped and Doug and his men have to dig her up or wear the mantle of shame.