The Guardian is simply one of those movies that exists: It’s not good; it’s not bad; it’s just there. It’s one of those movies that if you don’t see it in the theater, you’ll probably forget about it in a month (give it two months to fade from your memory if you happen to catch it on the big screen). You won’t think about it for maybe a year or two, until one Saturday night, while channel surfing, you stumble upon it being shown on TBS, and you’ll think to yourself, “Oh, hey, it’s that Coast Guard movie!” And then you’ll change the channel.
That pretty much sums up The Guardian‘s shortcomings. Everything about it screams generic and forgettable, from its plot to its stars to its title. Just from the trailer you could probably make a pretty good guess as to what will happen in the film, and that includes the tug-at-your-heartstrings climax. Other than the fact that it is about the Coast Guard and their elite team of rescue swimmers, there is absolutely nothing that sets this film apart from the dozens of other rescue/military/mentor movies that have ever been made. It would be one thing if the inclusion of the Coast Guard had any real bearing on the film’s plot, but the fact remains that you could substitute any dangerous profession, whether it be the Navy SEALs, firefighters or coal miners (how long until Hollywood jumps on that idea?), and you’d get more or less the same movie.
As the storyline goes, it’s pure formula. Kevin Costner plays Ben Randall, an aging Coast Guard legend and the best rescue swimmer there is, until tragedy strikes and members of his rescue squad die, leaving him the only survivor. Due to guilt and psychological trauma (we know this because he continually has the same nightmare, then wakes up in a cold sweat), he is assigned a job training new recruits. Included in his class is Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher), the requisite brash, young hotshot nicknamed “Fisch” (get it?). Of course, the restrained Randall and the cocky Fischer butt heads, and this tension is supposed to be the crux of the second act. Unfortunately, if you’ve ever seen a movie before in your life, you can probably answer the question as to whether or not Randall and Fisch will find a common ground and become friends.
As far as theme goes, the movie would like to be about the bonds of brotherhood and friendship. This works to a certain extent, since Costner, as his normal humorless self, and Kutcher, in his somewhat more serious mode (think The Butterfly Effect (2004) as opposed to Dude, Where’s My Car? (2002)), seem to work fairly well together on-screen and their personalities fit their characters well. The only problems are that Costner is too straitlaced and Kutcher is not a strong enough actor to ever give the viewer any type of emotional connection with their characters. When your whole movie (especially the climax) is centered on the viewer honestly caring about these two men, then you have a problem.
In all, The Guardian is passable entertainment, though it presents nothing new and overstays its welcome with its 139-minute running time. Its goal is to be an inoffensive, uplifting movie, and in that capacity it works. But in an already waterlogged market of inoffensive, uplifting movies, there are certainly more imaginative ways to spend your 139 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action/peril, brief strong language and some sensuality.
– reviewed by Justin Souther