Andrew Davis, who directed The Fugitive a few years back, would appear to have pioneered a new movie form: the big-screen buffet. With The Guardian, the filmmaker has taken the concept of "something for everyone" to a new cinematic extreme and served up an entertainment composed almost completely of the best parts from several other far more entertaining films.
Given its sampler approach, you're likely to find at least portions of this picture to your taste, even if you find almost nothing about it particularly new. After all, who isn't fond of An Officer and a Gentleman? Davis uses the 1982 drama for at least 50 percent of The Guardian's template. Kevin Costner does an easygoing, middle-aged version of Louis Gossett Jr.'s tighter-than-a-drum gunnery sergeant. He plays Coast Guard Senior Chief Ben Randall, a legendary rescue swimmer who finds himself dry-docked and in charge of training recruits at the Guard's elite "A-School" after his entire squad is wiped out in a rescue attempt gone terribly wrong.
Among the first batch of recruits he confronts is Ashton Kutcher, who plays Jake Fischer, a cocky stud with a background as a medal-winning high school swimmer. He couldn't be more modeled on the Tom Cruise character in Top Gun if he dove into the training pool hooting, "I feel the need for speed."
He shoots his mouth off in class just like Cruise's character did. He similarly boasts that he intends to break every record on the school's books. He is also modeled on the character Richard Gere played in An Officer and a Gentleman, naturally. This means that Kutcher is also a loner with a troubled past; he's out for himself. Costner's greatest challenge will be turning him into a team player.
The training drama in the middle of the movie covers equally familiar ground, which is a nice way of saying that writer Ron Brinkerhoff helped himself to key elements of other people's work. Remember, for example, the whole business in An Officer about pressuring recruits to "drop on request?" Brinkerhoff appears to have appropriated whole chunks of that picture's "D.O.R." dialogue.
He also provides Kutcher with a love connection that's practically a carbon copy of the recruit/townie romance between Gere and Debra Winger. The one fresh spin the writer does provide is the friendship that develops over time between the brash youth and his seasoned mentor. Costner sees a bit of his younger self in Kutcher, so, while he initially rides him, he winds up inviting him out for a beer, bonding over a bar fight, and generally taking him under his wing.
The training drama is sandwiched between exciting deep-sea rescue sequences that open and close the movie - and which look so much like the deep-sea footage in The Perfect Storm that they could be deleted scenes from that film. I'm not kidding. Davis has duplicated that picture's computer-generated ocean fury down to the smallest detail. At one point, I thought I spotted a minuscule figure floating alone in the vast sea. I swear he looked exactly like Mark Wahlberg.
The Guardian's deep-sea rescues themselves bear a very strong resemblance to those in The Perfect Storm. Many of the same things happen in the course of both films' helicopter missions. But even if they're familiar, they're not necessarily less exciting. My favorite parts of Davis' movie, in fact, were the scenes that take place in the middle of the ocean. Let's face it: When it comes to aquatics, Costner has a certain amount of baggage. Any director who can get you to watch the actor paddle around for nearly 2-and-a-half hours without having flashbacks of Waterworld is doing something right.
So, yes, if you liked An Officer and a Gentleman, Top Gun and/or The Perfect Storm - not to mention most of the military training dramas ever to march out of Hollywood - you will probably like at least some of The Guardian. You may not be surprised by many things, and you may not remember them long afterward, but you will have a nice enough time. With so many hit movies as its basis, how could this possibly miss?
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