Guardian, The (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

There's nothing in The Guardian that audiences haven't previously been exposed to ad nauseam. Take a little of An Officer and a Gentleman and a little Top Gun and throw in some waves and underwater sequences, and you have The Guardian - only with less charismatic actors, more tame sex scenes, and a lot less energy. The director is Andrew Davis, who made The Fugitive more than a decade ago. It hardly seems possible that this lazy, sluggish, overlong production could be the work of the same man.

If I wrote "stop me if this sounds familiar," the review would end here, so I won't do that, but I'll warn readers at the outset that The Guardian doesn't offer much that's new or interesting. Kevin Costner is Ben Randall, a decorated U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmer who ends up teaching after an accident wipes out his entire team (except him, of course). Ben is having trouble coping with what happened - we know this because every time he sees a flare, he has a flashback, and people can set off flares at the most inconvenient times.

Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher) is the hotshot student in Ben's class - the kind of cocky guy who's going to clash with the teacher then become the prize graduate. True to the formula, Ben and Jake spend a good deal of the film snarling at each other before bonding as a result of a beer and a bar brawl. Meanwhile, Jake gets involved with a local teacher (Melissa Sagemiller) while Ben bemoans the breakup of his marriage to Helen (Sela Ward, once again playing the long-suffering wife). Eventually, training is over and Jake gets to try his skills in the real world.

The Guardian is flat - a formula film that never finds a niche of its own. Technically, the water scenes are well executed, but they're not exciting. The movie seems to be going through the motions, finding a familiar path to get us from point A to point B. It's possible to care about characters in movies like this when the acting is good and there's an element of sincerity in the screenplay. Neither is the case here. Costner is relaxed, but one senses there should be more intensity in a guy like Ben, for whom retirement is worse than death. Kutcher is arrogant to a fault - the chip on Jake's shoulder makes him tough to like, even once the truth about his "tragic" past is revealed. Lou Gossett Jr. and Richard Gere they aren't, and Melissa Sagemiller is no Debra Winger. (Maybe a few hot scenes like the ones shared by Gere and Winger would have spiced up The Guardian.)

The film is so inconsequential it almost doesn't deserve a review. There's not much to say about a movie that fails to take the time to develop real characters or provide a few interesting plot points, yet still manages to run for well over two hours. The Guardian expects us to fill in the blanks using our experiences with previous productions of this sort. Not only is that unfair, it's lazy. The Guardian is likely to quickly join Annapolis on DVD rental store shelves as another 2006 failed representative of this subgenre. Why bother with a weak imitation when the original is readily available? Go rent An Officer and a Gentleman instead. It delivers where this one does not.

Guardian, The (United States, 2006)

Director: Andrew Davis
Cast: Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher, Sela Ward, Melissa Sagemiller, Neal McDonough, Clancy Brown, John Heard
Screenplay: Ron L. Brinkerhoff
Cinematography: Stephen St. John
Music: Trevor Rabin
U.S. Distributor: Touchstone Pictures
Run Time: 2:18
U.S. Release Date: 2006-09-29
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1