I had three opening sentences for this review, and I couldn’t decide between them, so please just use your favorite one:
- I didn’t think The Guardian was too long and had too many endings until those hobbits started jumping up and down on Kevin Costner’s bed.
- I was enjoying the new Kevin Costner movie, The Guardian, until the projectionist accidentally spliced in a two hour long, boxing-free remake of Annapolis starring Ashton Kutcher.
- How surprised was I when it turned out The Guardian, the latest Kevin Costner film, is a prequel to Waterworld?*
The Guardian teeters just on the edge of being a passable formula movie and being an actually bad movie for about 45 minutes – sadly, the remaining hour and a half sends the film plummeting into actual bad movie territory. At turns laughable and boring, The Guardian wastes not just an interesting concept – Coast Guard rescue swimmers who risk their lives to save people on the high seas – but also a very good cast that includes the likes of Clancy Brown, John Heard, Sela Ward and Neal McDonough. That’s a fucking crime.
The plot’s pretty simple: Costner is the best rescue swimmer since human beings evolved away from being amphibians – until a terrible accident kills his whole crew and leaves him traumatized. He gets ordered to take a rest in the form of teaching a new group of rescue swimmers the ropes, and among the newbies is Ashton Kutcher, attempting to play an endlessly driven jock who is trying to forget his dark and “mysterious” past. The two butt heads from the beginning – can Kutcher make the grade and will Costner come to understand him?
There are a couple of things that make The Guardian actually bad, and the biggest of them is Kutcher. It’s noble of him to attempt a character with depth (even the depth given a by-the-numbers formula movie character), but he’s not up to the task. He seems uncomfortable and we’re just not interested. Tellingly, there are a couple of scenes where Kutcher is allowed to lighten up, and those scenes work. Ashton, keep it fluffy.
The length is another major strike against this film. As The Guardian approached the two hour mark I wondered why anyone felt that a very generic training movie needed to be this long. How many scenes of Kutcher and Costner in a pool does one film need? I estimate that about 80% of The Guardian’s running time is made up of people in pools.
One thing that doesn’t work against The Guardian is Costner. He’s actually pretty great as a far-too-serious, washed-up-but-doesn’t-know-it and surely-some-other-hyphenated-phrase swimmer. The role seems like a little bit of a commentary on the guy’s career lately, which is too bad. I’m not a full-on Costner devotee, but I do think that when he’s making decent choices and not directing, Costner is worth watching.
In the end The Guardian is a waste of time – a waste of a lot of time.
*Spoiler: This is barely a joke. The end of The Guardian leaves us with two options: Kevin Costner is haunting the ocean or he’s evolved into a pee-drinking gillman who saves swimmers.