It is common knowledge that movies get green-lit in Hollywood sometimes based on little more than a concept, a plot point, or even just a title (re: “Snakes On a Plane”).
I have a sneaking suspicion that a studio exec was watching the coverage of Hurricane Katrina and saw the bravery and daring of the Coast Guard rescue swimmers raising victims from their rooftops into helicopters and said, “We need to make a movie about these guys!”
A noble sentiment to be sure; yet, regardless of why it was made, it’s a shame for the men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard that the best Hollywood could do was “The Guardian.”
It’s not that “The Guardian” is not without merit, but I’d also be willing to bet you’d be hard-pressed to find a real rescue swimmer who could watch the movie with a straight face.
The movie stars Kevin Costner as super-awesome rescue swimmer Ben Randall. Ben is so super-awesome he has the cherry assignment of living in Alaska and pulling constantly drowning pleasure boaters and fishermen out of the churning Bering Sea.
Yet people are drowning so often, and Ben’s dedication to saving them is so great, that his marriage to Helen (classy lady Sela Ward) is crumbling. He is married to the sea, I suppose.
But when a rescue mission goes bad amidst some pretty spectacular special effects, Ben loses his entire crew and almost dies. Because of this tragedy, Ben is temporarily reassigned as the head instructor at the rescue swimmer training school.
Of course, the class features your typical collection of eager students, including cocky swimming star Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher), who in spite of his tremendous talent has a bad attitude that rubs Ben the wrong way.
While all of this sounds painfully familiar, and that’s because it is, this is actually when the movie is at its best. When it goes the “Top Gun” route we have an interesting little movie about what it takes to become a rescue swimmer and the triumph and heartbreak of the students striving to make it. Ben has unorthodox training methods; Jake learns humility and the class pulls together and learns the value of teamwork. Unfortunately, the movie gets bored with its best asset as the rest of the class, who should very clearly hate Jake’s guts, fades into the background as Ashton gets a tacked-on girlfriend (which will lead to an even more tacked-on ending) and some dopey, tear-filled monologues.
Then things go from faulty to ridiculous as we rush through graduation and Ben and Jake are both assigned to the same unit back in Alaska. Now they’re partners! Bet ya didn’t see that coming!
“The Guardian” was directed by Andrew Davis, whose best effort by far was “The Fugitive.” More appropriate entries into his canon are “Under Siege,” “Chain Reaction” and “Collateral Damage.” Basically, if you want to put some mediocre stars in a mediocre movie and then spend all the rest of your money on special effects, Davis is your man. And based on those criteria, “The Guardian” more than fits the bill.
While those special effects are pretty spectacular, and Costner and Kutcher do have some pretty decent on-screen chemistry, the film tends to shift tone and focus so often it’s like trying to watch a movie from a tilt-a-whirl. There’s probably a good film in there somewhere, it’s just hard to find while trying to overcome nausea.
For once, Hollywood had its heart in the right place as a celluloid homage to the heroic men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard was certainly overdue. And while it’s true that it’s the thought that counts, it would have been nice if the movie was better.
“The Guardian” is rated PG-13 for intense action scenes, language, and some sexuality.