2 hours, 15 minutes
Alaska is a cool place to be, if only for the fact that everyone else in the country seems to equate living here with living on the far side of the moon. It’s as if they think Alaska’s not just a long way from home, it’s a whole ’nother world. What irks me, though, is that Hollywood seems to think the same thing. They like to make movies about Alaska, just not in Alaska. Yeah, this is a somewhat exotic locale, but it’s not light-years away or anything. We are continental, for goodness sakes!
This week’s film, “The Guardian,” about Coast Guard rescue swimmers in general, and Kodiak swimmers in particular, almost made up for it. Some of the film is shot in Kodiak and it shows. I don’t care how cheap it is to shoot in British Columbia, you can’t fake beautiful Alaska scenery. Unfortunately, the production wimped out in the end. Fears that Augustine would blow their film out of the water led the crew back to Lower 48, fabricating the Kodiak base in South Carolina, of all places. Oh well, at least they gave it a shot.
Kevin Costner, in full dour mode, is Master Chief Ben Randall, the Coast Guard’s most highly decorated rescue swimmer. After a tragic accident at sea, Randall is sent to the training academy to help mold the next generation of the Coast Guard elite. Apparently, in the military, the only people who ever teach do so because they’re damaged goods. Damaged goods or not, Randall will have to bring his “A” game because these are the best.
In fact, they’re the best of the best. You get the impression from watching these movies that every branch of the military is the best of the best of the best. You never see anything about the guys in the middle. “They were adequate! The most adequate of the adequate, and they did their jobs reasonably well!”
Among the recruits Randall encounters Jake Fischer, a hotshot young swimmer with a tragic past. Having turned down scholarships to swim at the Ivy Leagues, Fischer now has his heart set on saving lives and breaking hearts, a modern day Maverick. This persona is incredibly irritating and would be so even if we hadn’t seen the character a hundred times before. Mostly it’s irritating because of Ashton Kutcher who, to be fair, is leaving his “Dude” and “Punk’d” personas behind, but not fast enough to suit my taste. Gradually Fischer and Randall form a bond, helping each other over the rough patches in their personalities. And when school’s out and the real work begins, the pupil will become the teacher, and the teacher will become ... “The Guardian!”
OK, so that last bit sounded like a cheesy tagline for a cheesy movie, and it’s a little unfair. “The Guardian,” while incredibly cheesy and cliched at times, rises above that designation with its stellar water rescue sequences. Not only are they exciting and action-packed, but they highlight the impressive, and often unsung, contribution made by the Coast Guard on a daily basis. This film is a love letter to that particular agency and will no doubt affect recruiting tallys.
Unfortunately, spectacular as they are, the rescue scenes are too few and far between. The majority of the film is taken up with the schooling storyline, and it’s the weakest part of the film. At times the action is so predictable, you feel as though you could shout the lines along with the characters. The points that aren’t predictable are marred by film techniques that are probably meant to feel avante garde, but come off seeming more like a music video.
When it’s all said and done, “The Guardian” is entertaining, but just barely. Everything about the production, aside from the stellar sea sequences, is passable, but not great by any means. The Alaska connection is fun, and as that’s where most of the rescues occur, it’s the most enjoyable part of the film. But an interminable running time (about 2 1/2 hours) and cliched script are just a little too much water over the bow. Grade: C
“The Guardian” is rated PG-13 for scenes of peril, violence and language, including an incredibly pointless and gratuitous dropping of the F-bomb.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.
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