Every week this summer, we'll be taking an historical tour of the Hollywood blockbuster by examining an older film that is in some way a spiritual precursor to one of the weekend's wide releases. This week: in The Hitman's Bodyguard, a hitman has a bodyguard. Do you perceive the knee-slapping humor of this incongruity? Because we tend to think of hitmen as being sufficiently capable to bodyguard THEMSELVES. Sadly, not all movies about bodyguards can be this hilarious, at least not on purpose.

There have been, that I can think of, four times when a single from a film's soundtrack was so unbelievably goddamn huge that it was in a significant way responsible for making that film a smash hit at the box office. "Stayin' Alive" from Saturday Night Fever in 1977 and '78 (the edge case: "Night Fever" actually makes it two singles), "I Will Always Love You" from The Bodyguard in 1992, "My Heart Will Go On" from Titanic in 1997 and '98, and "Let It Go" from Frozen in 2013 and '14. It is impossible to quantify just how much of an impact the song had in any of these cases (though Frozen outgrossing Moana by roughly 60% in the U.S. and 100% worldwide provides all the proof I want that the effect was real, for that film at least), but I think I can safely say this:ย The Bodyguard owes more to "I Will Always Love You" than any of the others.

By the time the film opened the day before Thanksgiving, 1992, the song had already been out for three weeks, hitting the first of its record-setting 14 weeks at the top of the U.S. charts the same week that the movie came out. This is, of course, what singles released from film soundtracks are meant to do, raise excitement for the film containing them, but The Bodyguard was a monster success, far beyond most pop music-driven films: the second-biggest film of 1992 worldwide, and as of this writing, 25 years later, still one of the 250 highest-grossing films of all time, not adjusted for inflation. And there is absolutely no reason other than "I Will Always Love You" for that to be the case; for unlike Saturday Night Fever, Titanic, and Frozen, The Bodyguard is an extremely terrible movie.

The film's big selling point, beyond its behemoth of a soundtrack (still the highest-selling in world history, though it never caught up to Saturday Night Fever and Grease in North America), was that it was the acting debut of pop superstar Whitney Houston - which, indeed, explains that behemoth of a soundtrack - and that already tells us a lot of what we need to know. Not that films built around pop music stars are inherently bad, of course - really, that's all A Hard Day's Night is, and I wouldn't bat an eye if you wanted to argue that was the best British film of the 1960s - but the deck is surely stacked against them. Just look at the sucking vortex that was Madonna's film career right around the same time that The Bodyguard came out.

And Houston is, by every metric I can possibly imagine, a terrible actress when she's doing anything other than belting out R&B ballads. Her expressions are perpetually sleepy, exuding a sizable disinterest in the cast around her; her line readings are flatly perky and almost completely devoid of any flexibility, so that when she is mortally terrified, she sounds very much like when she is horny, or annoyed, or filled with a peaceful sense of familial connection. She is frequently upstaged by her own hair, with the caveat that The Bodyguard is something of a treasure trove of the hair and make-up department doing utterly godawful things to the top of people's heads.

The thing is, as supremely bad as Houston is, she is in no way "the problem" with The Bodyguard. Fuck me, she's not even the worse of the two above-the-title co-leads: for all that it's Houston's star vehicle, it's Kevin Costner's film, him starring as the titular bodyguard Frank Farmer, and doing every bit of the heavy lifting for the plot, and all (Costner also produced the film through his company Tig Productions; only the company's second picture it was, after Dances with Wolves). I've never pretended that I particularly love Costner as an actor, but he can still be more or less good; here, it is much less. There's an almost angrily wooden quality to his performance, like he's not merely stiff and unconvincing, he's stiff and unconvincing because he's so damn pissed off at everybody and everything, possibly because he was apparently shaved bald and then had a hairdo painted directly onto his scalp.

And these two are meant to somehow spark off a love story, though it's hard to think of a romantic drama whose lovers evince less chemistry than Costner and Houston in The Bodyguard. They are so spectacularly disinterested in each other that chunks of the movie which seem to have been written in service to that romantic plotline don't even make sense, at a narrative level, because the film fails so completely to convince us that the romantic plotline even exists. It's actually kind of cool.

Everything that's not directly depicting the love story in The Bodyguard is better. Everything. Even the dopiest scenes pertaining to the barbarically stupid pair of twists relating to who is trying to murder superstar singer and Oscar-nominated actress Rachel Marron (Houston) and why are better, and some of those scene are dumb as shit. If there had been a subplot in which Frank was a rare coin collector, and in one scene he spent 10 minutes in a single take polishing a coin with a handkerchief, that would have been better.

At any rate, the love story that couldn't is surrounded by the tale of how a seasoned professional bodyguard, full of lingering professional doubts about the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, when he was still in the Secret Service, is hired to defend a superstar with a raving fan sending her ominously threatening notes. Despite the presence of actual bombs in her dressing room, Rachel doesn't see the need for a bodyguard, but she does, apparently, want to bone Frank, so she keeps him around. This is the kind of stuff that I'm talking about, where the film genuinely fails to make sense because of the purity of the anti-chemistry between the leads. Undaunted, though hugely irritated by absolutely everybody and everything, Frank tracks down the threat through his keen detective skills. Wait, did I say, "tracks down"? I meant "stares with gaping incomprehension every time a murder attempt is made, up to and including the one that happens onstage at the Academy Awards, where he explicitly in dialogue anticipates that there will be a murder attempt".

Still, the thriller part of the film is at least mediocre enough to function, and I assume was a great comfort to fans of stories about bodyguards filled with guilt over their behavior on the day a U.S. president was shot during the eight months until In the Line of Fire came out. Costner's a shitty romantic lead, but given what I find to be his specific limitations as an actor in everything that's not Bull Durham and A Perfect World - a rude coldness that expresses itself as authoritarian barking - he's pretty good as a mirthless security expert who cannot fucking believe how mindless all of the people around him are about every last little detail of security. And director Mick Jackson is mostly adept at staging tense moments - the Academy Awards showdown (where Rachel's film Queen of the Night wins Best Song for "I Have Nothing", which was actually nominated in our real world, along with the same soundtrack's "Run to You"; both lost to "A Whole New World" from Aladdin) is actually exciting, even given all the ill-will the film had earned from up till that point. At least until the indescribably corny slow-motion kicks in.

So, a movie that veers from shitty to mediocre; a movie that feels like it could and even should be a camp classic, though it is not my sense that this has happened. But nobody cared about any of this in 1992, and still less does anybody care about it in 2017. The only draw has always been the songs - which are certainly too few in number and duration to be the only draw. We don't even get a full, uninterrupted performance of a single one of them. Still, you've got to hand it to Houston: she's one hell of a pop music belter. Speaking personally, I don't know that belting out ballads is the way to go; without a moment's hesitation, I can happily say that I prefer Dolly Parton's original 1974 recording of "I Will Always Love You", shy and apologetic and tender and, as the lyric says, bittersweet (Parton didn't write it as a romantic love song, but as an apologia to her mentor Porter Waggoner for moving on to a solo career), while Houston's is kind of big and very big and biggest.

Still, it's a powerful, blazing soundtrack, given lift by a voice at peak strength, and while like anybody who was alive in 1992 and '93, I have no need to ever hear Houston's "I Will Always Love You" again, branded as it is into the molecules of my brain, I won't deny that there's an intense, worshipful potency to the performance.

This is, I want to make it clear, a reason to listen to the first side of The Bodyguard's soundtrack, and not a reason to see The Bodyguard. In fact, there is no reason to see The Bodyguard; I'll admit, though, that I was not watching it under peak conditions to appreciate it as kitsch, and lovers of awesomely shitty '90s melodrama might have a better go at it than I did. But there's no unironic value to this, God no, certainly not.