The Guardian
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Andrew Davis
scr Ron L Brinkerhoff
with Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher, Melissa Sagemiller, Sela Ward, Neal McDonough, John Heard, Clancy Brown, Brian Geraghty, Dulé Hill, Peter Gail, Shelby Fenner, Bonnie Bramlett
release US 29.Sep.06,
UK 13.Oct.06
06/US Touchstone 2h09

Danger zone: Costner and Kutcher

sagemiller ward mcdonough

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The Guardian Clearly aiming to do for the Coast Guard what Top Gun did for the Navy, the filmmakers should have just called this Top Fin. It's a great story marred by way too much stirring sincerity.

Randall (Costner) is a decorated rescue swimmer stationed in Alaska when a rescue goes horribly wrong, just after his wife (Ward) gets fed up with him. To regroup, he's assigned to teach the best of the best at the Coast Guard's A School. Soon Randall squares off against young Fischer (Kutcher), who wants to succeed perhaps a bit too badly, and yet keeps getting distracted by a local woman (Sagemiller) and bar brawls. Important Life Lessons ensue.

Everyone in this military-approved drama is hugely heroic and self-sacrificing. There are no real loose cannons, only gruff drill sergeants (McDonough) who care, really, and cadets (Geraghty) who might not have what it takes, but probably do. The only shadows are thinly painted back-stories; each person has something that haunts them, which they must overcome for the glory of their country.

This not-remotely subtle epic is clearly designed to glorify what is a genuinely astonishing career choice. But the film actually succeeds in trivialising everything with its shallow story, predictable structure and obvious moralising. From the very beginning, each scene and reference is included with a specific purpose, which leaves the film feeling artificial and forced, without a hint of life's real messiness.

At least the cast is good--Costner has a nice world-weariness with a hint of good-natured cynicism. Kutcher has a few potent scenes that reveal serious acting potential if he'd just stop making this glossy studio stuff. The rest of the cast barely registers: women are here to add plot wrinkles, familiar-faced officers are on hand to provide gravitas.

Even if it's utterly lazy filmmaking, it's also strikingly spectacular. The effects work is impressive but uneven (some scenes looks far too computer animated). And after the silly training-is-hell montages and corny dramatic dialog, at least the action set pieces generate some real excitement. But it's sadly not enough to make the film any good.

cert PG themes, language, violence 4.Sep.06

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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall