October 1, 2006

Movie Review: The Guardian

The Guardian is nothing if not a formula film. Hollywood runs on these things. Once a film becomes popular, others seek to duplicate their success. If those copies are successful, a formula is born. They are the basis for many studio films, they are the backbone of their financial success. They allow them to throw a little bit of money towards smaller, more creative films, at least I hope that is the way it works. Films made by a formula will often be heaped with criticism of movie snobs the world over. I am not one of them, I may recognize the formula, but I will not dismiss it outright. We are fortunate that there is talent out there that can breathe new life into a formula, or inject it with enough energy or emotion to make it work. A recent example of a formulaic film that works is Invincible, the Disney produced inspirational sports movie.

The Guardian is a story of self discovery, of healing, a sort of passing of the torch, and at its heart is an action film that manages to play the heart strings while it teases the adrenaline junkie in all of us. Is it completely effective? Not exactly, but it does make for good entertainment as it attempts to transcend the formula and become something bigger. There were times where I felt I was being manipulated by it, which made it pass over into melodrama place where it loses some of its credibility. Still, I liked it well enough to give it something of a pass.

We start off with Ben Randall (Kevin Costner), a top rescue swimmer. The opening sets him up as the hero as we watch him dive into the violent drink to rescue a couple that are about to go under. No sooner has his team returned to base, that they are called back to the field when a ship is in distress. This does not end well, with his entire team being caught in the storm, leaving Randall as the only survivor.

The loss of his team leads to his assignment to "A" school, where he will train the next generation of swimmers. Enter Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher), a young man with a cocksure attitude that rubs his new instructor the wrong way. Little do they know that they have a lot more in common than one would think. Randall pushes Fischer hard, forcing him to work harder and harder each time they go out.

The final third of the film puts both swimmers into the field, as the elder swimmer passes the torch to the younger swimer. The story comes full circle as all of the lessons taught and learned during the first two thirds are put into action as the maturation progress for both men completes.

This is not the kind of movie that will keep you guessing. There may be a few little surprises en route to the climax, but there is never any real question of where it is going. A lot of whether you like this movie or not will come back to the technical aspects, the acting, the direction, the music. The story, screenplay, setting are all pretty much non issues, as it is the lead performances that will have to captivate you, and the use of music to manipulate you.

Ashton Kutcher makes his return to the big screen for the first time since the abysmal A Lot Like Love. I am unconvinced of him as a leading man, but I also am willing to give him a shot. The Guardian strikes me as his first attempt at a big dramatic film, and for the most part, he is successful. His biggest drawback is his voice and mannerisms which seem to be fully entrenched in the comedic realm. Pairing him with Costner is a good choice, giving the younger thespian a bit of his own starpower, and, hopefully, giving him some advice while on the set. The scenes that they share together are among the most effective of the piece.

The rest of the supporting cast are effective, especially Sela Ward, in her limited screentime as Costner's long suffering wife. Melissa Sagemiller is also pretty good, emphasis on pretty, as Kutcher's love interest. Then there is the rest of the swim class that all have distinct personalities and all seem to fit in well.

Andrew Davis injects some nice visual flair, particularly in the stormy seas, they have a nicely visceral feel to them. The music, from Trevor Rabin, deserves mention, not because I particularly liked it, but it effectively plays your emotions for just the right dramatic effect. This is far from the first movie to do this, and it will be nowhere near the last, but this one stuck in my mind.

Bottomline. Not as bad as it could have been, not as good as it could have been. It is effective in what it sets out to do, features some decent acting, and is generally good entertainment. It was a decent test of Kutcher's potential, but I am going to be optimistic and say that his potential has not yet been reached.

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