In His Potato’s Secret Service

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Not to be insensitive, but if you’re a Secret Service agent, and America knows your name, you’d better have taken a bullet. Otherwise something’s rotten in the state of the Union. Oh, we don’t blame you, Larry Cockell -– the fault for the current ugliness lies with either Starr or Clinton, and most likely both. We like our presidential protectors tall, dark and inscrutable, preferably with mirrored sunglasses. With an earpiece and a little cord that disappears down past a starched collar. With nothing to say to us. Sure, we’ve giggled at you from time to time, but never to your face. You’re too scary, a shade less than human, and that’s the way we like it. The way it’s got to be. No snitching, no tell-all interviews with Ed Bradley, no book deals. Eyes and ears, but no mouth. Face it. You’re furniture.

Which is why you folks don’t tend to do too well as characters. Certainly nobody went to see Guarding Tess. In Absolute Power, you were the bad guys, and the movie was dreadful. And need I bring up First Kid? (I thought I needn’t.) I admit freely that it bothered me when Xander Berkeley turned traitor in Air Force One (although he’s an underrated character actor who was the best non-silicon-based thing in the Pamela Anderson vehicle Barb Wire). So if we can believe what we hear -- that you’d rather see Janet Reno naked than testify before Ken Starr’s grand jury or any other -- America, I think, applauds your discretion/humility. You just weren’t meant for stardom.

One exception: In the Line of Fire. Give Wolfgang Petersen his due for making a solid American thriller and casting Fred Thompson to boot. And if, like me, you found Clint Eastwood a little old and stiff to leaping about on rooftops, think of it this way: He’s supposed to be stiff, at least -– he’s a Secret Service agent. And he does get his man.

But I still feel uncomfortable watching it. Part of me doesn’t want to know Frank Horrigan, what his past is, who at the office he has the hots for. I still want him to save the President, but I don’t want to meet him until afterward. Lift the curtain and the wizard grows smaller. Lift the mirrored sunglasses and yank out the earpiece, and the Secret Service man loses his invincibility. He is no longer a wall between peril and the President, he’s a guy in a gray suit with a lousy home life. And that makes me nervous.