The Guardian (review)

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Lost at Sea

Bad movie? You’re soaking in it. And yet again a quote from Mystery Science Theater 3000 saves the day, much like Kevin Costner’s Coast Guard rescue swimmer in The Guardian, the gruff old veteran whose life of putting his hide on the line for total strangers dumb enough to go for a day cruise in storm-tossed arctic waters will suddenly become one long good deed that must not pass unpunished. And “punishing” is indeed the word for this overlong, overearnest action angst-fest — it’s bloated like a corpse at sea, and yet it sinks straight to the bottom in an instant.

Well, not in an instant, unfortunately… over the course of two and a half hours, which is at least an hour longer than any movie starring Ashton Kutcher (more on him in a minute) needs to be. The whole middle act, in which Costner’s (The Upside of Anger, Open Range) Ben Randall takes on the (unwanted) job of training a squad of new recruits to the Guard’s rescue service, feels about 18 hours long and does lots of lazy breaststrokes through sentimental cliché and melodramatic slo-mo — when it isn’t feeling like soap opera, it feels like a training film. Watching a bunch of guys (and a few anonymous gals, there to make sure the movie looks inclusive and modern without actually having to be so; I don’t think one of the female trainees has a single line of dialogue) diving into a pool or pushing bricks around to the bottom in tandem in order to learn teamwork and yelling “Hoo-rah!” every 30 seconds is only interesting for so long, and then you have no choice but to resort to picking on Ashton Kutcher (The Butterfly Effect, Cheaper by the Dozen) in order to keep yourself entertained.
Not that that is an activity that is ever far from your mind anyway, what with Ashton Kutcher being Ashton Kutcher and all — you know, robotic, bland, etc. His Jake Fischer is an arrogant hotshot, naturally, a guy full of himself and not afraid to let everyone know it, and yet, there’s Something Awful nagging at him, and you know this because the arrogant young hotshot in these kinds of bullshit-claptrap movies always has some personal Sword of Damocles hanging over him, against which he has developed the annoying superiority and pigheaded pride as an emotional raincoat. The best — and by best I mean, of course, most hilariously terrible — bit in the 18-hour-long middle part of the film is when Ben and Jake finally have their big confrontation, the thing that breaks the ice between them and ensures that they Male Bond and allows Ben to discover why he’s been seeing so much of himself in this young idiot (and you knew that was coming to). It’s Ashton’s Big Scene, and he’s emoting and raging and crying and you suddenly realize: Oh. My. God. He actually thinks he can act.

The whole endeavor, in fact, is attempting to be way more serious than the casting of someone of Ashton Kutcher’s level of nontalent would seem to indicate, but the bookends, the opening and closing acts that bracket the dreadful training stuff, ain’t half bad, at least as long as the story sticks to Ben’s relationship with his estranged wife, Helen (Sela Ward: The Day After Tomorrow, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights). She’s finally leaving him, having come to the end of her rope after 20-some odd years of him going off to be a hero every day and maybe not coming home again, and though I never understand women like Helen — what, you want him to quit and hang around the house all day and moan about how bored he is? you wanted the hero, honey, and you got him — I know that they exist. And Ben and Helen’s little divorce dance, as they break up even though they still love each other, is sorta touching, in a Hollywood sobfest kind of way, and shows off how Costner’s still got it as a charismatic movie star. And those small bits make me hate myself less for getting caught up in some of the genuinely gripping rescue-at-sea action asides, which remind you that director Andrew Davis (Holes, A Perfect Murder) was the guy who made The Fugitive, one of the best popcorn action movies ever.

Then the flick’s gotta go all dumb again, with the most preposterously clichéd ending possible. Worse is that it’s ridiculously easy to see how, with some very minor tweaking of Ron L. Brinkerhoff’s script, the precise same thematic sensibility could have been maintained — only the melodrama needed to be thrown overboard. But now we know: When people say “Worst things happen at sea,” this is what they’re talking about.

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Sat, Sep 30, 2006 3:17pm

Anybody remember when Kevin Costner used to LIKE to make movies? When it used to be FUN for him, rather than a job?

Fri, Oct 13, 2006 1:08pm

I disagree with you.

I was wary to see “The Guardian” because of Ashton Kutcher’s main role in it, but he actually did a really good job. I thought the flick was very well done.