Combustible Celluloid
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With: Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher, Melissa Sagemiller, Dulé Hill, John Heard, Neal McDonough, Sela Ward, Derek Adams, Shelby Fenner, Omari Hardwick, Domon Lipari, Scott Mueller
Written by: Ron L. Brinkerhoff
Directed by: Andrew Davis
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action/peril, brief strong language and some sensuality
Running Time: 136
Date: 09/28/2006

The Guardian (2006)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Drippy When Wet

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Andrew Davis' The Guardian is so petrified over disrespecting the United States Coast Guard that it stifles itself. Like one of its trainees stuck under water, it can't breathe.

Trevor Rabin's exceedingly noble score -- complete with slow, heroic horns -- sets the tone throughout. (If you need something gallant and serious, Rabin's your man; he scored Gridiron Gang, Flyboys, Glory Road, The Great Raid, etc.)

The Guardian is more or less a basic-training, Top Gun-type retread, complete with the cocky, young hotshot (usually played by Tom Cruise) looking to grab the torch from the crusty old veteran. Only now we get Ashton Kutcher, whose lunkhead charm is still better suited to Dude, Where's My Car? than anything this sober. The not-so-crusty Kevin Costner plays the older man; fortunately, like William Holden, age and experience have rid Costner of his former stiffness and he has become rather engaging.

Ben Randall (Costner) is a rescue swimmer in Kodiak, Alaska, who jumps out of helicopters and snatches hapless mariners from the sea's clutches. After an on-the-job accident, he reluctantly accepts a teaching job at the academy. That's where he meets Jake (Kutcher), a former high school swimming champion, with a "dark past" of his own.

Director Davis once excelled at making bang-up "B" pictures like Code of Silence (1985) and Above the Law (1988). Under Siege (1992) and The Fugitive (1993) earned him a slot on the "A" list, where he has never really been at home. Still, he fills out The Guardian with a few clear, exciting rescue scenes. (As with TV's "Baywatch," these convenient disasters at sea occur whenever the plot calls for them.)

But not even Davis can save the movie from its 136 interminable minutes and half-a-dozen endings; it won't risk leaving anything out. The movie sets up lengthy back-stories for both characters, outlining their various triumphs and tragedies so that we'll fully comprehend their behavior (as if other films in this genre wouldn't fill in the blanks). Nonetheless, the talent involved collectively provides a few splashes of life. The Guardian may be all washed up, but it's not entirely dead in the water.

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