Mark Reviews Movies

THE GUARDIAN

2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Andrew Davis

Cast: Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher, Sela Ward, Melissa Sagemiller, Neal McDonough, Clancy Brown, John Heard

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of action/peril, brief strong language and some sensuality)

Running Time: 2:16

Release Date: 12/29/06


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Review by Mark Dujsik

Enlistment in the Coast Guard must be down. Now I know what you're thinking, but it's my job to be skeptical. And when dealing with something as unnecessarily bloated and formulaic as The Guardian, skepticism is natural. There are some admirable traits to the movie. One, it is actually about service in the Coast Guard, unlike, say, Annapolis earlier this year which was more a formulaic mess (albeit a slightly entertaining one) about boxing than training for the Navy. Two, it has some well-executed rescue sequences from director Andrew Davis. Three, it features decent performances. Figure those against a heavy-handed script with clichés up the wazoo and a gratuitous two and one quarter hours running time, and any kind of at-sea heroism done by actors taking the material completely at face value is going to be on the wrong side of the equation. The plot developments feel more like the stuff of an extended recruitment commercial than that of a dramatic narrative. The tone is deathly serious, which only adds inadvertent humor to the script's multitude of familiar elements.

Ben Randall (Kevin Costner) is a rescue swimmer with the U.S. Coast Guard, an elite group with only a couple hundred members we learn, with the Air Station Kodiak in Alaska. After a rescue involving a man who tries to go ahead of his wife, almost drowning her, Randall returns home to his wife Helen (Sela Ward) only to find that she's packing her thing to move out. The strain of being married to a career military man is too much (although we never learn her occupation, she seems by all rights to be a nurse, so one can only imagine their work schedules and commitments would mold well, but anyway...). On his next mission, disaster inevitably strikes, and his entire team, including his best friend, is killed in a helicopter crash. After recovering, Randall wants to go back to work, but his commanding officer thinks its best if he takes a job training rescue swimmer recruits at "A" School. Among the recruits is Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher), a champion high school swimmer (get it: "Fish") who turned down scholarships to every Ivy League school to join the Coast Guard. Guess what: Fischer's arrogant, and Randall is extra tough on him because he knows he can succeed.

You can probably tell where all this is going, so I'll try to spare reiterating it as much as possible. Some of the expected developments include Fischer starting a relationship with a townie school teacher, a bar fight, a late night revelation of a troubled past, a veteran frozen in action at the memories of his own past, and so on. There's even a training montage, filmed exactly like a recruitment video, complete with digital, handheld cinematography. Most of these anticipated scenes amount to ridiculous moments and are unintentionally amusing as a result. There's just something inherently absurd about Randall having flashbacks to the disaster that killed his team whenever he sees the red light of a flare and the fact that those memories are filmed with a red filter (not the red memories again!). The relationships in the movie exist primarily for added conflict and don't add anything helpful in terms of defining the characters. There is some time spent developing the relationship between Randall and Fischer outside of the boundaries of the professional realm and into that of a personal connection of shared experiences. Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher are fine in their roles. Costner is gruff but vulnerable; Kutcher's cocky but vulnerable.

It's an appreciated turn but one that isn't nearly developed enough to give emotional weight to the movie's climactic rescue. The rescue scenes themselves have a certain visceral impact. Davis, while certainly not a director with an eye for good material, can helm an action scene with a bit more than some competence. Lives hang in the balance and all that dramatic hooey, but the stakes are raised just enough to keep interest in the proceedings. The disastrous rescue attempt near the beginning of the movie is certainly not a surprise, since it's fairly obvious from the very start that Randall is going to have to be haunted by something on the job, but the actual mechanics of what goes wrong are well done. There's a somewhat shocking moment in which the only survivor of the boat sinking that Randall and his team came to aid disappears below the surface, and it takes a second to realize the young man was still connected to the helicopter that crashed and exploded into the ocean. The special effects are those that were effective circa 1997, though, and later rescues are more weighed down by forced character turmoil (the red memories return) and maudlin attempts at pathos.  

Speaking of the movie's corny developments, if the final voiceover of the titular mythical guardian of the deep (a discussion that neatly bookends the movie) doesn't goad you with its unwarranted sentimentality, then surely the Bryan Adams written and performed song will. Seriously, how desperate does one have to be to enlist Bryan Adams to perform a cheesy rock ballad for a movie nowadays? The Guardian certainly feels desperate for garnering emotions out of the audience it doesn't deserve.

Copyright © 2006 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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