December 07, 1992 12:00 PM

Whitney Houston, Kevin Costner

Willingly suspend disbelief, all who enter here. This mystery-romance about a pop singer and her ex-Secret Service agent personal bodyguard is lively and engaging in a mindless way. But to enjoy it, you have to get past the film’s relentless affronts to credulity, such as the fact that Costner—who is supposed to be a hotshot, perfectionist bodyguard—closes his eyes when he fires his handgun.

Then there is the supposed attraction Houston feels for Costner, whose standard, terminally white-bread look is exacerbated by a short, shaggy haircut that makes him look like a cross between Pete Rose and Ming the Merciless. (As a result, the Costner-Houston love scenes have a methodical, by-the-numbers quality.)

While the answer to the mystery of who is behind the threatening notes Houston is receiving is obvious early on, director Mick Jackson gives the movie a kinetic-frenetic overtone that seems to move the plot along even when nothing much is happening.

A substantial supporting cast helps. Michele Lamar Richards contributes zest as Houston’s envious sister. De-Vaughn Nixon is suitably cute as Houston’s 8-year-old son. Gary Kemp is suitably single-minded as a shallow press agent, and Ralph Waite, as Costner’s warm-fuzzy father, is his old cozy, Waltonish self.

The humorless script, by the usually clever Lawrence Kasdan, is on the naive side and burdened by an obsession with the Academy Award for which Houston’s character is nominated. (Houston’s generally nondescript songs are by such R&B regulars as L.A. Reid and Babyface. She profits most from Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” which is back-doored into the film after Costner takes her to a country bar.) The movie climaxes colorfully at the Oscars, though Jackson deflates the tension of his big confrontation by telegraphing the decisive events long before it’s necessary.

Nonetheless, the disposition of a number of peripheral characters, including one red-herring celebrity stalker, is left unclear.

The movie still provides substantial grist for après-theater chats and thoughts, even beyond trying to straighten out the plot confusions and rehashing the what’s-a-nice-girl-like-her-doing-in-a-relationship-like-that questions. One major issue to ponder is why Jackson never lets Houston sing a song onscreen all the way through. This is something like having Michael Jordan on your basketball team and never letting him lake a shot. (R)

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