The Guardian

on September 29, 2006 by Bridget Byrne
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One might be tempted to crack jokes about how after "Waterworld" Kevin Costner should have know better than to dive back into deep water, but the earnest and solid, though also often stolid, sense of doing right by the subject matter is too apparent in this movie for it to be dismissed so flippantly. Still, a bore is a bore, even when the cause is worthy, and in this case one feels a documentary about what skill and fortitude it takes to become a rescue swimmer in the U.S. Coast Guard might have been more compelling than this cliched drama.

Costner is suited to the role of Ben Randall, a past-his-prime hero who is reluctant to hang up his wetsuit, and co-star Ashton Kutcher possesses the looks and confidence to fit the bill of the cocky young wannabe with hidden flaws, whom screenwriter Ron L. Brinkerhoff unfortunately couldn't resist naming Jake Fischer. Some of their scenes together, both in defiance and camaraderie, play sweetly enough, as do some other moments between these men and their women, although Sela Ward as Randall's wife and Melissa Sagemiller as Fischer's gal are given very little to work with in token love-me-love-me-not roles.

The talented but essentially sidelined supporting cast, which also includes John Heard, grabs whatever can be teased out of the thin writing, but still nothing really has any heft except the expertly staged action sequences in raging oceans and turbulent helicopters. These scenes come much too far apart as endless training sessions and moments of self-doubt occupy much too much screen time. Including so many of the physical exercises needed to make the grade as a rescue swimmer certainly wasn't necessary. We get the picture that it's a tough job right from the first without having to witness every punishing push-up, hypothermia tank dunking and underwater life-saving technique.

Watching “The Guardian” is like treading water in a cold tank when you'd rather be sun-basking on a raft in a tranquil cove. Starring Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher, Neal McDonough, Melissa Sagemiller, Clancy Brown, Brian Geraghty and Sela Ward. Directed by Andrew Davis. Written by Ron L. Brinkerhoff. Produced by Beau Flynn and Tripp Vinson. A Buena Vista release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action/peril, brief strong language and some sensuality. Running time: 139 min..

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