The Guardian wants more than anything to be a summer blockbuster. But as a fall movie in earnest--clocking in at well over two hours, no less--the movie is stripped bare and revealed as a middling action flick without much action.
As a legendary Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer, Ben Randall (Kevin Costner) was all heart and no regret. But it all comes undone in the span of one night when he goes out to the menacing seas with his crew to make a rescue, and he is the sole survivor. Following that fateful night, he"s ordered to teach at "A" School--a demotion for a man of his stature and seniority--an elite training program that helps turn the best recruits into the best Rescue Swimmers. Randall teaches the cocky students the only way he knows how, and his tough, tough love is initially met with skepticism by his fellow trainers who think of him as a has-been. But one student in particular, Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher), catches his eye and draws his ire. Fischer is cocky, hotheaded and highly skilled--just the right pedigree to make a great Rescue Swimmer and a lot like Randall was at his age. Randall rides him extra-hard while Fischer only hopes to one day be in the same boat as his mentor. Be careful what you wish for, Jake!
Costner's always been an acquired taste--sometimes a downright noxious one on first bite--but there's no denying he slides right in here. Roles that feature him as the aging provider of wisdom are now his true calling, and the sooner he accepts it, the better. And even still, Costner gets to flex his action muscle a bit. As for Kutcher, the only thing he shares in common with Costner is the last two letters of his last name--as actors, these guys are each other"s antitheses! And in a weird way, they strike a nice chemistry because of it, one that is borderline exciting to watch. As a standalone actor in The Guardian, Kutcher is a bit misplaced and seems to know it. He nails the physicality of the role, but while the character's attitude and brashness befit Kutcher, the peak dramatic scenes with Costner leave something to be desired. A pleasantly surprising turn from relative unknown Melissa Sagemiller (The Clearing) as Kutcher's girl toy and reliable supporting performances from Sela Ward and Neal McDonough round out the cast.
Director Andrew Davis' proximity to his career peak, The Fugitive, cannot be measured in time: He's a lot further away from the mega-hit than a mere 13 years. But in Hollywood, if you have a Fugitive under your belt, you'll never run out of chances to replicate it. That's the current juncture for Davis--one last shot at Fugitive glory...till his next last shot. It's hard to say what The Guardian will do at the box office, but Davis' stodgy direction doesn't necessarily help its chances. The movie can be boiled down to awful pacing: the first and last 15 minutes are high-octane action, and everything in between is low-octane Top Gun (the non-action scenes!). That blame belongs to Davis and writer Ron L. Brinkerhoff. But only Davis can shoulder the other flaws, such as a single scene of dubious camerawork--filmed to look like handheld-montage style, completely deviating from the movie's context--and the special effects during the somewhat cheesy action sequences, which may remind you of a theme-park tour during which you learn how they filmed a boat scene...in the '80s!
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 stars.