Review written by Nathan Vass
There’s a reason formula films are made so often- they work. Cliché stories of bonding and romance and revenge typically satisfy on a certain level. Of course, because they are formulaic, films of this nature can only be so satisfying. Such is the case with Andrew Davis’ (The Fugitive) new film, The Guardian, starring Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher, which takes the classic “father-figure teaching rebellious kid to appreciate his ways while both grow as individuals” story and grafts it onto the world of Coast Guard rescue diving. I hardly need to rehash the synopsis- you already know how the story goes. The “crusty but benign” father figure (Costner, playing an aging but expert rescue diver) reluctantly agrees to teach an elite rescue class, the star student of which is played by Ashton Kutcher, fulfilling the role of the cocky-but-talented upstart who learns valuable life lessons from Costner. The two have uninteresting romantic entanglements that serve as parallel subplots. Costner is in the process of leaving his wife, while Kutcher meets an older schoolteacher with more than a passing resemblance to Demi Moore. There are no surprises here, but that comes with the territory; like the recent Pride & Prejudice, it’s a pleasure to watch the events unfold in the hands of capable talent. We know there will be a scene where Kutcher meets the girl. We know there will be a scene where Costner pushes Kutcher to the limit. We know these things, but the situations are handled in a very entertaining fashion, particularly the scene where Costner stands up for Kutcher in a bar- a hugely satisfying moment.
It is my belief that Costner could never play a convincingly evil villain. I mean this as a compliment. Much like Jimmy Stewart or Henry Fonda, Costner’s being simply exudes integrity. There’s a sincere depth in his world-weary eyes. Even if he’s doing nothing, staring off into space, you just know he’s an honest man. He fairly reeks of goodness, and he is at his best in roles that take advantage of this attribute (JFK, Dances With Wolves). The Guardian is no exception. He plays his character with a depth beyond the script. We believe him as a rescue diver from the moment we see him. Kutcher’s performance isn’t exactly brilliant, but it isn’t terrible, either; he fits the role quite well. Like much of the movie, he is average.
Davis’s direction is very muted. He seems to realize that this isn’t a great or important picture, and gives the film a serviceable, adequate approach. His decision to film one of the training montages in digital video is a bit jarring, as is a reference to Katrina that feels out of place in a piece of entertainment like this. These are small complaints, though, and nothing to get in a fit over; what really brings the movie down is a completely extraneous “fourth act”- the film continues for an additional 20 minutes or so, after all the story’s conflicts have been resolved. I was perfectly prepared to give the movie a solid B score after seeing the first three acts, which were entertaining and competently put together, with some moments of great humor and interest- the film distinguishes itself with a very realistic approach to rescue diving. The training scenes go beyond the montages we’re used to, and the actual rescue sequences are involving and quite well mounted- they are not merely thrilling, but are authentically nerve-wracking to watch. Despite these positive attributes, the film overstays its welcome. One-hundred thirty minutes is a bit long for a Kevin Costner-Ashton Kutcher water rescue movie, especially when the last 20 minutes feel unnecessary. They simply offer the requisite climactic rescue scene where the two leads take turns saving each other’s lives (I’m not giving away the ending, believe me), except the problem is the character arcs and subplots have all been taken care of before these rescue scenes begin. There is a precise point during one scene where you feel the movie is over, but it isn’t, and then there’s another moment where you feel the movie’s over, but you’d be mistaken there as well. Davis and his crew just keep on truckin,’ for better or worse. If you see this movie, you’d better really like Costner, Kutcher, the Coast Guard, or all three.
In the end, there really isn’t much one can say about The Guardian. It is what it is- exactly what you’d expect it to be. It isn’t great, but it isn’t bad. If you’ve seen enough movies, and you’ve seen the trailer for The Guardian, then you know what you’re going to get. You know if you’ll like it or not.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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