Of all the screen pairings I thought I'd never see, the pairing of Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher would have to rank pretty highly on the list. Yet, here the two are in "The Guardian", a drama about coast guard rescue workers from director Andrew Davis ("The Fugitive"). Costner stars as Ben Randall, a Coast Guard vet stationed in Alaska. As the picture opens, his wife has just left him because he pays too much attention to his job over her and, shortly after, Ben goes through a nightmarish mission where he is the only member of his team to survive.
With his superior ordering him to take a break, Ben finds himself at the Coast Guard Academy trying to train new recruits at how to save lives. One of the recruits is Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher), a confident former high school swimmer who turned down scholarships from multiple Ivy League schools in order to head to the academy. Needless to say, it takes a little while before Ben and Jake (and Jake and his fellow recruits) start getting along with one another.
The picture does not offer a moment that strays from formula, yet despite utter predictability, it still remains watchable, thanks to a fine performance from the reliable Costner (who actually elevates formulaic material) and a very decent first dramatic effort from Kutcher. Supporting efforts are also a bit above average.
The main problem is that, while I was never bored with the film, I had to wonder how this film was not edited down before release. This is a fairly basic story that does not need the rather epic length of nearly 150 minutes. The film's training sequences seem to go on and on and while I've liked Melissa Sagemiller ("Sorority Boys" - yes, I still think that's a funny movie) in the past, her role here as a local girl that Kutcher's character falls for is a thankless one that could have been dropped. Overall, there's at least thirty minutes of film here that could have been trimmed. There's also a major scene towards the end - which I won't give away - that just was absurd and should have been rethought.
Overall, it's a credit to director Davis (as well as Costner and Kutcher) that they manage to make very familiar material at least mildly engaging and, while the film is obviously too long, I found it watchable. "The Guardian" isn't going to win awards, but it's better than it could have been and Costner and Kutcher surprise by making a pretty good team.
VIDEO: "The Guardian" is presented by Buena Vista Home Entertainment in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a crisp, clean-looking presentation throughout the show. Sharpness and detail are consistently quite good, even in the darker/dimly-lit scenes.
Pleasantly, the presentation shows quite little in the way of edge enhancement and no instances of artifacting or print flaws. Colors remain a tad subdued, but appeared accurately presented, with no smearing or other concerns. Black level also looked solid, as well. While not perfect, this was a very good transfer.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is forward-oriented throughout a large part of the picture. However, the rescue sequences do open up the audio very well, with the surrounds kicking in to offer splashing waves, high winds, creaking boats, helicopter audio and other sounds. Audio quality is just fine, with crisp dialogue, a full, rich sounding score and punchy effects.
EXTRAS: The alternate ending (which is quite a bit superior, in my opinion) is offered with an introduction from director Andrew Davis. Davis and writer Ron Binkerhoff also offer their insights on the making of the film in a commentary track. Finally, we're offered four deleted scenes w/optional commentary, an informative "making of" featurette and an enjoyable featurette on real-life members of the Coast Guard.
Final Thoughts: "The Guardian" is corny, predictable and overlong. However, Costner offers another fine performance and Kutcher mildly exceeds expectations in his first dramatic role. The two actors do their part to elevate the formulaic material and make this a watchable flick. The DVD presentation offers very good audio/video quality and a nice set of extras. A recommended rental.