Release Date: September 29, 2006
Kevin Costner’s The Guardian tells a story which has been told before and doesn’t bring anything unique to the telling. The script is formulaic and the characters, though not precisely one dimensional, are nevertheless stereotypes that could be traded with characters from other like movies without much damage being done to the project. Despite these unremarkable aspects, the movie was competently filmed and the subject matter is just interesting enough to entertain us most of the time. Hollywood could do, and has done, a lot worse.
Kevin Costner plays Ben Randall, a renowned rescue swimmer for the coast guard whose devotion to his job has, surprise, surprise, placed his marriage to Sela Ward’s Helen Randall in jeopardy. After a tragic accident during a rescue mission, Randall’s boss, played by Clancy Brown, insists he take some time off to get his head right. Randall is sent to lend his expertise to the rescue swimmer training camp, a prestigious camp where only the best of the best are invited and where over half the applicants wash out.
At the camp, Randall meets Jake Fischer, played by Ashton Kutcher. Fischer is a young all star swimmer who is out to beat all the training records currently held by Randall himself. But Fischer, though talented, is not a team player. It is up to the still troubled Randall to find a way to connect with him and show him that for all his talent, he is not going to make it unless he learns to cooperate and not just compete.
The script is credited to Ron L. Brinkerhoff, though I suspect it actually came out of a computer. It has that paint-by-numbers feel. Are the young coast guarders assembled on the first day to be introduced to a tough as nails and unsympathetic head master? Yes. Does that head master later reveal a softer layer underneath as he connects with Fischer? Indeed he does. Is the requisite scene where all the cadets go out for a night on the town included (a scene placed strategically so as to break up a boot camp that, though interesting, might become monotonous very soon)? Oh yes, it is. Does Fischer meet a girl during that night on the town? He does indeed, and a pretty one at that (Shelby Fenner’s Cate Lindsey). Does she put up feisty resistance at first, as if a man who looked like Kutcher with Kutcher’s toned body couldn’t sweep a girl off her feet with no more difficulty than that which one experiences in trying to make a dog wag its tail? Of course. Is there a bar fight, preferably with members of the navy who look down at what they call “puddle pirates”? Indubitably. Is Randall unsurprisingly lenient about the bar fight? Naturally. On their first date, despite her assurances to the contrary, does Cate wind up in the sack with Fischer? Hell yeah. Are we treated to sizzling footage of their lovemaking that is sure to make the audience’s ears burn? Uh… no, we’re not that lucky.
You already know the plot, and you are reasonably likely to guess the ending. The Guardian will not be topping any Ten Best lists for the year. But the ride is enjoyable enough if taken only once. For one thing, the rescue swimmers have an interesting job, and an equally interesting training camp. And the movie is filmed competently. The acting, even with stars like Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher, is surprisingly adequate. All in all, it’s not a terrible way to spend a couple hours. There are even a few genuinely humorous moments.
Apart from that, there simply isn’t much to analyze. We’ve been here before. It is a part coming of age and part redemption tale. Nothing shocking, nothing controversial, nothing deep and probing; just a predictable, though not bad, script that was nicely put to celluloid. As long as Hollywood has decided not to wow us with any masterpieces yet this year, we could use a few more movies of the caliber of The Guardian and few fewer of the caliber of Ultraviolet.
The Upside: The movie is competently done by current standards. The subject is interesting.
The Downside: There is nothing new here. It’s not that it is a copy of a greater genre setter; it’s that it is a copy of a copy of a copy.
On the Side: Kevin Costner was rumored to have refused to urinate in the ocean during the filming of Waterworld, so every time nature called production stopped and he was flown back to shore to relieve himself. This time, large indoor wave pools were built for the scenes in the ocean. No word on whether Mr. Costner dirtied the water in those.
Final Grade: C+