Hollywood is in the habit of remaking everything these days, relying on brand recognition to sell their movies, so it’s hard to understand why this remake of “The Bodyguard” is called “Beyond the Lights.” Sure, the character names are different, it was written by different people, Kevin Costner is nowhere to be seen and it’s an “original” story but a sense of déjà vu hangs heavy over the movie’s every frame.
When we first meet Noni Jean she’s a young girl with a set of pipes to revival any American Idol contestant. Her mother and manager—her momanger—Macy Jean (Minnie Driver) is a determined presence with her eye set on superstardom for her daughter. Cut to a few years later, Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is now a hip hop star à la Rihanna. She’s on the cusp of fame, has a rapper boyfriend and a record about to come out that is guaranteed to be a hit. One night, just days before a big performance at the Billboard Awards, the pressure gets to be too much and Noni tries to jump off the balcony of her hotel room. She is rescued by Kaz (Nate Parker), a handsome police officer working on her security detail who grabs her hand just as she is about to tumble in to the tabloid headlines.
A romance blossoms between the two, despite the protests of their parents. Kaz’s father (Danny Glover), a retired police officer is grooming his charismatic son for a career in politics while Macy Jean simply wants sever any ties to the suicide story. Noni and Kaz, however, have a special bond, one born out of an understanding of what it’s like to have pushy parents and wanting to do your own thing.
Director Gina Prince-Bythewood trowels the melodrama on thick in this sensationalistic show-biz fable but that doesn’t stop her from commenting on the downside of notoriety in a way that hasn’t been done since “A Star Is Born” chronicled the decline of singer John Norman Howard (Kris Kristofferson). It’s an occasionally scorching look at the world of fame, but defaults to soap opera theatrics to keep the plot moving forward.
None of this would register if Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker weren’t such compelling performers. Mbatha-Raw wowed in last year’s “Belle” and shines here playing both sides of Noni’s personality, the onstage diva and conflicted offstage woman. If anyone sees “Beyond the Lights” a star may be born. Her chemistry with Parker is undeniable and together they overcome the film’s unnecessary plot theatrics.