Thoroughly familiar in almost every way, The Guardian is still an extremely well-crafted and entertaining adventure film. Director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive, Holes) knows a thing or two about action scenes, and although the best of these are found only as brackets to a somewhat overlong story, he benefits from a capable cast to keep the audience engaged from start to finish.
The Guardian (rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action/peril, brief strong language, and some sensuality) centers on Coast Guard rescue swimmers, an elite group of men and women who drop from helicopters into raging waters to save drowning victims.
Kevin Costner plays Ben Randall, a veteran rescue swimmer and living legend who is stationed in Kodiak, Alaska. A devastating accident that wipes out his rescue crew (in one of the best sequences in the film) forces Ben to take some time away from his obsessive focus on saving lives. Ben is temporarily assigned as an instructor at the Coast Guard's "A" school, where top rescue swimmers are trained.
Enter Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher), an overconfident recruit who arrives at the school with plenty of ambition and a championship-winning high-school swim career to back up his boasts. As one might expect, Randall plays the skeptical veteran to Fischer's naïve tenderfoot, and the two lock horns before developing mutual respect.
Costner, not surprisingly, wears his character like a comfortable pair of jeans, but MTV prankster Kutcher is surprisingly effective in a dramatic role. Both actors show impressive restraint at emotional high points in the film. Scenes that could have easily crumbled under their own weight actually add a compelling complexity to the two characters.
By about two-thirds of the way through this 136-minute film, audiences may start to get a little fidgety. The screenplay has an almost obsessive focus on tying up loose ends into neat little packages, and most of these are telegraphed well in advance.
There is the suggestion of premarital sex in several scenes, and brief flashes of bad language, but otherwise The Guardian is modestly inspiring entertainment.