The Guardian (12A)

Search and rescue? It's way too late for that...
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No, The Guardian isn't a film about a newspaper which gets all of its best ideas from The Independent. It's a film about Coastguard Rescue Swimmers, something I can state with some certainty, because the first line of dialogue is: "I'm a Coastguard Rescue Swimmer." It's their job to be flown by helicopter to maritime disasters, whereupon they're dropped into the stormy sea, so that they can help winch the survivors to safety. One veteran Rescue Swimmer, Kevin Costner, has saved more lives than anyone in the history of the service, even though he often ignores the rulebook. I can state that with some certainty, too, because another early line of dialogue is: "We're low on fuel. The rulebook says we cut our losses. What do you think, Ben?"

We all know what Ben thinks, but in this instance the mission goes calamitously wrong, on the very day that his wife leaves him ("It's time for me to rescue myself"), so Costner hangs up his snorkel and accepts a teaching post at coastguard school. His star pupil is the conveniently named Fischer (Ashton Kutcher), a cocky athlete with a lot to learn about teamwork. And so The Guardian sells us two clichés for the price of one: it's got the maverick teacher who shakes things up with his unorthodox methods, and the maverick pupil whose fabulous aptitude is compromised by his headstrong attitude.

Andrew Davis's film is a shameless copy of Top Gun, An Officer and A Gentleman and every other 1980s military recruitment movie which has men in white uniforms saluting each other and reciting macho, unironic slogans about how "elite" they are. One instructor even uses the old "best of the best" phrase patented by Top Gun. But The Guardian's half-hearted, irresolute storytelling only makes you nostalgic for those films' efficiency. Costner is suitably stern, but Kutcher is too much of a goofball to convince us that he'd plunge into the Atlantic for any reason other than a drunken bet. As for his love interest, I doubt she even had a name in the script apart from Love Interest. Her only role is to assure the audience that the heroes aren't gay, even though they're always hugging each other.

The Guardian lasts a long time for a film with almost no content, but if someone had cut all the training montages it would have been an hour shorter. The best of the best? If there were a military academy for screenplays, this one would have flunked in the first week.