Don't put any money on this film's intended marketing trifecta: First come the moms, supposedly with tender memories of Kevin Costner in his late-'80s hunkdom; they bring their teen daughters, drawn by the prospect of boy-toy Ashton Kutcher; then there are the guys (husbands, boyfriends, whatever) less interested in learning about heroic U.S. Coast Guard rescue divers than hoping to watch Costner and Kutcher get smacked in the face a few times. And sadism isn't the worst reason for wanting to see a movie. In outline—Costner as gruff mentor, Kutcher as cocky plebe—The Guardian seemingly promises many opportunities for both men to get pummeled by storm waves in the Bering Sea, crab pots careening on the decks of sinking trawlers, even a bar full of rival Navy men. In another, better movie, Costner would even have a hot twentysomething daughter for Kutcher to bed; then, following the oops! moment of realization, both would beat each other senseless and bond in the infirmary before the wedding.
Instead, what we have is a wading-pool knockoff of An Officer and a Gentleman—Costner as Lou Gossett, Kutcher as Richard Gere—but fatally lacking a strong woman in the Debra Winger role. (Bland Kutcher love interest Melissa Sagemiller is chiefly defined by teaching elementary school kids, then falling for one.) Kutcher actually has a weepy "I got nowhere else to swim!" scene, but the script just turns it into a Teachable Moment: Get over your talent, sailor, and learn to be a team player. Being a star in the training pool, however, isn't like being a Top Gun in the air—montages of Kutcher and company doing laps are like, well, watching swimming. Nor is there any towel-snapping in the locker room, which deprives Kutcher of his real talent—playing dumb to sly advantage. (He's got nowhere else to punk!)
Costner's more credible as the brooding old salt who self-medicates his midlife pains and past traumas with Wild Turkey and Vicodin. (Scenes with his wife, Sela Ward, play like infomercials for Viagra or mutual funds.) Any time he starts talking about the perilous sea, you think, "But he's got gills and can drink his own urine—what's the problem?" Oh, wrong movie. Though this one, while mostly set in Kodiak, Alaska, has its heart at Ground Zero, thousands of miles away. Substitute rescue divers for members of the FDNY, and you have some idea of The Guardian's noble aspirations. We're all in favor of courage, gallantry, and self-sacrifice, of course. But what's with Kutcher and the other plebes doing all their pool sessions with their T-shirts on? Maybe he couldn't get a parent's note from Demi to authorize any bare pecs. The Guardian, indeed. BRIAN MILLER