The Guardian (12A)

ANDREW CLARKE There comes a time in every movie star's career when they stop playing the hero and have to become the mentor. The Guardian marks the moment when Kevin Costner passes his action/hero baton to clean-cut wannabe Ashton Kutcher - the new all-American hero.

ANDREW CLARKE

There comes a time in every movie star's career when they stop playing the hero and have to become the mentor. The Guardian marks the moment when Kevin Costner passes his action/hero baton to clean-cut wannabe Ashton Kutcher - the new all-American hero.

The film is best regarded as being Top Gun at sea. It's a shameless glorification of the heroic work of the US coastguard and will undoubtedly work well as part of a recruiting campaign. They even have their campaign slogan which is repeated endlessly by various characters during the long running time: “When aircraft are grounded - we go out; when the navy is confined to port - we go out; when hurricanes rip houses off the face of the earth - we go out.”

It's all very macho and seems much more military than our own coastguard. In fact, training for the coastguard seems more akin to completing a survival course with the SAS.


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The film begins and ends with some stunning, if slightly over-the-top action sequences, of storm-tossed rescues at sea.

The conditions are so bad that it is hard to believe that helicopters could actually fly in those conditions. Costner plays Ben Randall, a world champion swimmer and a veteran of the coastguard's rescue swimmers' squad. They are the guys who jump out of helicopters into storm-tossed seas and pull survivors out the water and get them winched to safety.

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After the rescue at the start of the film goes wrong, Costner's Ben Randall is told that at 40 he may now be too old to continue on active duty. It's time to take a desk job. He baulks at this suggestion and is posted to the coastguard's elite training school to take over the training of the next generation of talented young rescue swimmers.

The new intake is cocky and supremely confident, Costner is injured, old and grumpy. He takes enough painkillers to make him rattle as he marches them into a swimming pool every morning. Within a week half the class have been booted out for not being up to the task.

He has the highest failure rate of any instructor, but he tells his commanding officer that he knows what it is like in the field and these guys are not of sufficient quality. However, there is one man who brings out the worst in Randall, a state-wide swimming champ Jake Fischer.

He's obsessed with breaking Randall's still-standing swimming records, but Randall sees himself in Fischer and it reminds him that he is not the youthful hero he once was. As a result he's harder on Fischer than anyone else in the squad.

The animosity remains until he discovers Fischer's secret past and a John Wayne-style bar fight cements their relationship. It quickly becomes clear that Fischer is his heir apparent.

In a strange quirk of fate that only happens in Hollywood movies, Fischer is posted to Randall's unit in Alaska as the veteran life-saver returns to active duty and during one final mission the baton is passed.

There are so many problems with this film - it's predictable, it's too long and the effects are not really believable. The storm sequences look, at times, as if they have been lifted from a computer game. And although it pains me to say it, I really think that Kevin Costner has forgotten how to act.

The dialogue is comic book poor to start with, but Costner's delivery is rather akin to him sight-reading the script without his glasses on. I have trouble reconciling the modern Costner to the man who made Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, No Way Out and Dances With Wolves. Somehow, somewhere, the spark has gone.

Ashton Kutcher makes for a likeable hero, but at no point did he convince me that he was genuine rescue swimmer. The film looks terribly old-fashioned - so gung-ho, in fact, that it could have easily starred John Wayne with a young Montgomery Clift in the Kutcher role.

The main drawback with the movie is that it seems far longer than the 139-minute running time suggests. It could have easily ended 20 minutes before it did and we would have been spared a host of Hollywood clichés.

A great disappointment.

 

 

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