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The Independent Critic

STARRING
Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher, Melissa Sagemiller, Sela Ward
DIRECTOR
Andrew Davis
SCREENPLAY
Ron Brinkerhoff
MPAA RATING
Rated PG-13
RUNNING TIME
136 Mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY
Buena Vista
 "The Guardian" Review 
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Every so often, you view a film that is simply there.

It's sort of like that book on your bookshelf that really serves no purpose. You don't ever read it. Heck, you never really even look at it. It occasionally serves as your bookend helping you organize all the other books that you read regularly. Yet, it's the kind of book that, despite your best intentions, you just can't seem to get rid of no matter how hard you try. It's always there.

That sums up, "The Guardian," the latest action flick directed by Andrew Davis ("The Fugitive") and starring Kevin Costner as the crotchety old traumatized instructor and Ashton Kutcher as his cocky, hotshot student.

Haven't we seen this film before? Lots of times? This year alone?

Because the basic theme is an all too familiar one, the challenge of director Andrew Davis is to carve a special niche' for "The Guardian." Unfortunately, the only thing that is unique about "The Guardian" is that it centers on U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmers...I've tried and tried, but can't remember another film based on the subject so, hey, there really is something unique about the film.

Big Sigh.

The truth is there's NOTHING else unique about this film. Every aspect of this storyline, penned by Ron Brinkerhoff ("D-Tox"), feels ripped off from other films, often better ones. As you watch "The Guardian," you'll see glimpses of "An Officer and a Gentleman," "Annapolis," and even the current "Flyboys" along with a host of other teacher/mentor flicks from across the genres of film.

In "The Guardian," Costner is Ben Randall, a longtime hotshot rescue swimmer for the U.S. Coast Guard who wipes out emotionally after a tragic rescue gone wrong and a marriage rapidly going wrong. To salvage his worth, the U.S. Coast Guard places him at the training school...you guessed it, his first class includes the hotshot who reminds him of himself, Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher), an Alpha male with his own baggage.

The formula is here. The film follows the predictable line of teacher/student enter conflicts, student learns, teacher/student bond, student becomes damn good rescuer and, finally, teacher/student both get a shot at redemption and the film has the inevitable maudlin, too artificial to be happy ending.

THE END.

Well, of course, we do have the obligatory love story sidelines...well, I suppose it's a "sort of" love story sideline for Costner opposite Sela Ward (How many long-suffering wives has she played now?), while Kutcher plays opposite Melissa Sagemiller with enough steaminess to almost steam up a jacuzzi to 65 degrees.

Now, before you think this review is a complete trashing of "The Guardian," think again. "The Guardian" is, in fact, a competent film. Davis infuses the water rescues with a certain electricity that makes them exciting, though predictable, to watch. It is an odd action film when the best action comes during the interplay between the film's burned out hero and his even more burned out spouse. The scenes between Costner and Ward offer a richness and authenticity far greater than any of the film's action scenes and, most certainly, any of the formulaic script offered by Brinkerhoff. Costner again shows signs of life after years of cinematic mediocrity, and "The Guardian" is worth watching solely for the thrill of seeing this formerly wonderful actor returning to form. He finds places in Randall that I'm fairly sure had Brinkerhoff scratching his head and going "Wow, I'd never thought of that."

Kutcher, unfortunately, isn't yet experienced enough or talented enough to find those inner crevices of his character's psyche'. Instead, he is left to flex his admirable abs and as a result his performance often feels like a blue-collar Tom Cruise from "Top Gun." Functional? Sure. Memorable? Not a chance.

In the supporting roles, experiences again shows with Ward offering a memorable performance while Sagemiller...well, at least she's hot. Sagemiller's performance will give you an even deeper appreciation for Debra Winger.

I guarantee it.

Production design for "The Guardian" is serviceable, but again, nothing outstanding or unique. Even with the unique setting of water rescue, the film all too often feels formulaic and predictable. Very often I found myself muttering "same scene, different setting." There's nothing particularly wrong here, but nothing ever truly feels right either. At 136 minutes in length, the formulaic nature of the film becomes almost a distraction unto itself.

Costner fans and Kutcher fans will, most likely, find no reason to support this film. While it's not particularly good, it's also too irrelevant to be considered a bad film.

"The Guardian" is what it is. "The Guardian" is a simple, predictable and formulaic action flick with "been there, done that" action sequences, paint-by-numbers relationships and the inevitable happy but letdown ending. The film features further proof that Costner remains a relevant dependable actor, and also features proof that Kutcher has a long way to go to become one.

If these are our guardians, suddenly I feel a lot less safe.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic
    The Official Rating Guideline
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