You’ve got to give those top Hollywood executives some credit. Now they are remaking movies but changing the title and simply passing it off as new. Earlier this year we got “Annapolis” which was a by the book retelling of both “An Officer And A Gentleman” and “Top Gun.” Now we have “The Guardian” which is “Officer” in the coastguard instead of the navy. If this keeps up screenwriters will no longer be needed. What’s next fellas, “The Mob” about a tight knit mafia family?
“The Guardian” stars Kevin Costner as a veteran rescue swimmer with the Coast Guard with a lot of problems. His wife is leaving him and his latest mission goes terribly wrong causing the deaths of fellow guardsmen. Fearing his has gotten too old his supervisor (underused but nicely played by the always dependable Clancy Brown) assigns him to be the head instructor for a new class of recruits. Enter Ashton Kutcher as the hot shot of the group who intends on breaking every record previously held by Costner. Of course he will soon learn that breaking records and saving lives are worlds apart.
The first of many problems with the film is the setup. Is Costner the main character? If so then why does the story shift dramatically to Kutcher and his fellow classmates and their struggles to survive the grueling eighteen-week course? If Costner is the main character the story should have focused on him and his adjustments to teaching the class. We should have seen the class as a group with none sticking out more then others. If Kutcher is the main character then why does it take almost 30 minutes before his character is introduced? Why do we have to have the obligatory girlfriend with all the wasted time watching him win her over despite the fact that she has told him she will not be getting involved? Moments later she ends up in bed with him without explanation.
Then there are the obligatory yet predictable sequences involving the training with the weak characters dropping on request, or DOR as we learned in “Officer,” and the stronger characters persevering. Unfortunately the training scenes all take place within the confines of a swimming pool (before actually going out in the ocean) so each scene seems to run together with little dramatic tension. One or two scenes would have sufficed but we get at least half a dozen.
Sadly the script makes no effort to introduce us to any of Kutcher’s classmates save one, a young man trying to make it for the third time. We do meet an African American and a woman recruit but after their introductory scenes neither have even one line of dialogue the rest of the movie. The African American is spotted here and there in the background but the woman literally disappears without even a single mention of what has become of her. Even at graduation she is not seen making one wonder if she was lost in the world of editor heaven. Consider all the supporting characters from “Officer” we got to know within the context of the scenes they were playing in. We even got to know Debra Winger’s father well with only a brief scene featuring him. Unfortunately that sort of good writing is missing here.
Director Andrew (The Fugitive, Under Siege) Davis does a capable job here but doesn’t have much to work with. We see several rescue missions through the course of the movie but once you’ve seen the first one there’s nothing Davis adds to the others. The film runs a needlessly long 140 minutes when it could have easily run under two hours at no great loss. Davis tacks on several false endings in an apparent attempt to one up Peter Jackson with “Return of the King” without realizing that the whole final act is unnecessary and only makes one squirm in his seat.
Costner gives a passable performance here but he’s a long way from his glory days of “The Untouchables” and “Field of Dreams.” Having not had a hit in a decade (Tin Cup) Costner wisely took supporting roles of late (The Upside of Anger and Rumor Has It) and appeared to be headed down the successful path of character actor. Here he is back at center stage with a script not worthy of his talent, which has been the case with such films as “The Postman,” “Message In A Bottle,” “For Love Of The Game,” and “Dragonfly.”
Kutcher’s appeal is still beyond me. Here he is terribly miscast because he looks too young to be believed as a coast guard rescue swimmer. His baby face hinders our ability to suspend disbelief and we never buy him for a second. That he has a high, whiny voice doesn’t help but Kutcher still needs a few more acting classes to rid himself of that woodenness that has dogged his entire movie career.
“The Guardian” is a major disappointment considering the talent involved. The visual effects are nothing to write home about and the pacing is too slow to keep the viewer interested. The screenplay needed at least one more re-write to establish the supporting characters so we care what happens to them. Perhaps the villain here is some editing but if that is the case more editing should have been done. Davis is a veteran director who has made a lot of good movies and will probably make more good movies in the future. If only he had believed in his characters more and cut some of the rescues that gave off a “been there done that” vibe.