© 2006 Ray Wong
Bring a bowl of machismo, mix in a bit of off-duty romance, toss up some fatherly advice, and stir in some hard-boiled action, and you've got a love story for the guys, aka Top Gun. In other words, The Guardian is an old-fashioned mentor-mentee/buddy action movie that aims at pleasing the testosterone-pumped crowed, and the female companions they may bring along.
After a bad accident that claims the lives of his teammates and best friend, coast guard "superstar" Ben Randall (Costner) can't cope with going back to work. His marriage to Helen (Ward) comes to a difficult halt as they separate. To "recharge," he takes a temporary teaching assignment at the Kodiak Academy in Alaska. The new crop of cadets includes Jake Fischer (Kutcher), a cocky all-state swimming champion. Jake challenges Ben on almost everything, believing that Ben is just a washed-up guy whose career has nowhere to go but down.
When Jake meets a local elementary school teacher, Emily (Sagemiller), his stellar performance takes a blunt setback. Ben proves to be a tough instructor, and Jake gets close to flunking out. Knowing Jake's story, Ben tries to nurture and motivate Jake because he sees his potential to become a great coast guard. The two men form an intricate bond over each other's personal issues as well as their drive to become the best of the best.
Costner (Rumor Has It) is like fine wine. The older he gets, the better he is. Given the right role, Costner shines as an actor as well as a "star." As Ben Randall, he handles the personal inadequacies, self-doubt, pride, and paternal sensibility very well. Kutcher (Open Season), in comparison, is somewhat green, though he portrays the cocky maverick with enough gusto and sincerity to make us believe. Costner and Kutcher make a good team.
Ward (The Day After Tomorrow) has a small but important role as Ben's estranged wife. Her heartfelt performance adds certain genuine emotional weight to the melodrama, and gounds Costner's character. Her scenes with Costner are especially affecting. Sagemiller (The Clearing) also adds a good balance to the male-heavy production. Her chemistry with Kutcher is spot on. The supporting cast does their job well enough, including Brown (Pathfinder) as Capt. William Hadley, Hardwick (Gridiron Gang) as Ben's best friend, Neal McDonough (Flags of Our Fathers) as instructor Skinner, and Heard (Gamers) as Capt. Frank Larson.
The script by Brinkerhoff (D-Tox) follows a standard, by-the-book plot structure and character development. Not much is new and fresh here -- we've all seen the show many times: the macho heroes with heartbreaking pasts, the love interests that soften their hard shells to tug at their tender hearts, the customary themes of friendship, honor and sacrifices. Yet, there's something satisfying about such tried-and-true formula -- it's familiar and reassuring. And in the days of global turmoils and domestic disarrays, such cliched heroic journeys are very much welcome. Sure, the dialogue is cheesy in places, the action gratuitous, and the climax predictable since the first reel. The important thing is, it meets expectations.
Director Davis (Holes) does a fine job giving us a taut, fast-paced action/drama. The special effects are spotty, however. There are some scenes that scream "cheese." But Davis is able to stop at the right places to explore the human relationships between these characters, and that is very much appreciated. We are allowed to get to know these people and care about them. Even though the plot might feel forced sometimes, and even though we can see the denouement from a mile away, we are willing to go along with the ride. To its credit, the film does what it's supposed to do, and may even bring a few lumps in the throats of the most hardened male audiences. If you're looking for something original and edgy, this might not be for you. For the rest of us, we may enjoy it with guarded appreciation.
Stars: Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher, Sela Ward, Melissa Sagemiller, Clancy Brown, Omari Hardwick, Neal McDonough, John Heard
Director: Andrew Davis
Writer: Ron L. Brinkerhoff
Distributor: Buena Vista
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence, language, sexuality
Running Time: 136 minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 7
Production – 7
Total – 6.7 out of 10