October 5, 2006

Baking an Action Movie

The Guardian

Matt Watson – 2 out of 5 Stars

Mix three cups of An Officer and a Gentleman, add a heaping dose of Top Gun, two quarts of The Perfect Storm, and a half pint of Bull Durham and you have the basic recipe for The Guardian. All that’s left is baking that mix for a 2006 movie audience and you’ve got instant action movie. Director Andrew Davis isn’t serving up anything we haven’t had before but like most deserts if you put good things in chances are it will taste okay.

In The Guardian, Kevin Costner stars as Ben Randall, Coast Guard rescue swimmer extraordinaire. Rescue swimmers are the guys that jump out of helicopters to save people whose ships have sunk or have otherwise been stranded. We quickly surmise that Ben is the best guy out there. He’s been there and done that. Ben is stationed in Kodiak Alaska and he spends most of his days freezing in the Bering Sea rescuing one hapless victim after another. Per standard Hollywood cliché, this is a tough and demanding line of work, hence it must take its toll on Ben’s marriage to Helen (Sela Ward). She’s moving out and Ben can’t see past his pride to see what’s wrong. Before they can patch things up, Ben’s crew has a brutal accident. In order to recuperate and get his head on straight, he’s reassigned to “A-School” the training program where fresh faced recruits attempt to become rescue swimmers.

The head of the class is Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher), a high school swimming champ who passed up multiple ivy league scholarships to jump out of helicopters for a living. He’s surrounded by the usual group of military recruits, including the muscle-bound jerk, the timid outsider, and the lone female. Randall’s methods of teaching are a little unorthodox and after a little head butting with the schools regular instructors he settles in to make or break his recruits. You know where the movie is going from here. Jake meets a local girl and they fight their feelings for each other, Jake rebels against Ben’s authority, Ben fights back and the movie follows the setup perfectly. While it’s all standard fare, there is one good bar scene with Jake and Ben that the film can call its own.

While the film really is a bunch of clichés pulled together, it is well executed. Costner plays the aging hero really well. He finally has the face and experience to go with the gravitas that he’s had since Dances with Wolves. It’s not a stretch to think his Ben really has seen it all. He and Kutcher play well together and Kutcher manages to keep his characters bravado under control. We know Jake is the best recruit, but Kutcher makes him sympathetic enough that we don’t immediately root against him. Along with the performances, we’re treated to the usual training montages that are Hollywood required for any movie that shows sports or the military. The MTV style cuts and editing is a little annoying at first but you get used to it after awhile. In contrast the scenes on the ocean are well done and they have a palpable sense of danger that helps underscore the real danger of this line of work. It's too bad the plot doesn't have the same effect.

Sometime in the past a Hollywood producer decided that the best way to make movies was to rehash things that had already been successful. If it worked the first time it should work again right? Hence every now and again we get an original premise that never strikes out on its own. The Coast Guard is uncharted territory as far as movies go so it’s a shame that all we got was An Officer and a Gentleman in a wetsuit. All and all, the Guardian is a decent action movie that is probably best enjoyed by fans of the films that it borrows from.

1 comment:

Nate said...

People who love a good 80s-style training montage will find this the sort of thing they like.