The Guardian

Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher, ...
Photo: The Guardian: Lance Staedler

The brave women and men who serve as United States Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers perform courageous, lifesaving feats every day. Clocking in at a Waterworldly 139 minutes, The Guardian catalogs every one of them. Or so it feels in this post-Katrina, here’s-to-the-heroes project, directed by Andrew Davis (The Fugitive) and shot in Shreveport, La. The movie represents an earnest effort to compensate for all the love the media has shown to firefighters and other land-based first responders in recent years with little thought to the Coast Guard; the drama also crashes on wave upon wave of clichés.

We see daring, happily successful rescues. We see daring, unhappily unsuccessful rescues. We observe raw recruits as they mature into team players. We meet grieving Ben (Kevin Costner), a handsome, weather-beaten pro reluctantly reassigned to a teaching post following an in-the-water tragedy, and we watch him bond with cute, brash novice Jake (Ashton Kutcher — like wife Demi Moore, an excellent shedder of tears), who’s got his own emotional scars to reveal when he’s ready.

Two hours and 20 minutes is plenty of time to reflect on an ocean’s worth of tragedies. Also to enact a bar brawl, a bar pickup, a funeral, a graduation, countless training exercises, and many flashbacks to Ben’s job-related trauma. (Davis is most confident staging tense water scenes, and least so with the requisite boy-girl interludes.) As for Costner, he shambled into a great career zone last year with The Upside of Anger, and he’s now positioned for a fulfilling future specializing in adult males familiar with the compromises of middle age. There’s something endearing about the rugged leading man’s constant pull toward square sagas, but really: gills? Again?

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