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`GUARDIAN,' THOUGH ALL WET, STAYS AFLOAT.

Byline: Glenn Whipp Film Critic

What if Crash Davis had joined the Coast Guard instead of playing catcher for the Durham Bulls? And what if the hotshot dimwit (Nuke LaLoosh) he had to mentor wasn't a character played by a good actor (Tim Robbins), but a hotshot dimwit played by an actual dimwit (Ashton Kutcher)? Well then, you'd have epic-scaled Coast Guard recruitment film ``The Guardian,'' a movie sunk by the weight of its waterlogged cliches.

Everything ... and nothing

The film, written by rookie Ron Brinkerhoff and directed by Andrew Davis (still living off ``The Fugitive''), seems to have been assembled during a test screening with the filmmakers taking every audience member's suggestion to heart. Want more ``Perfect Storm''-style action scenes? No problem. A little ``Officer and a Gentleman'' romance with beefcake boy Kutcher? Sure. Mentor-student conflicts, husband-and-wife estrangement, bar brawls, ``Top Gun'' sunglasses?

Check, check, check and check.

What few people want, though, is a 2 1/2-hour movie in a genre that should top out at 1 3/4 hours at best. When Davis isn't padding the film with music-video style training montages -- there are 21 musical cues in the film, including the Bryan Adams (!) closing credits song -- he's spinning his wheels on characters that no one ever bothered to flesh out. (Question: What happens to the attractive blond recruit? Is she, like Luca Brasi, sleeping with the fishes?)

Costner plays Ben Randall, the veteran Coast Guard swimmer taken off active duty and charged with whipping a new class of recruits into shape. Swimming champ Jake (Kutcher) has the most promise, but Randall believes, when push comes to shove, he'll choose himself over people in need. The two fight, they scream, they vomit, they bond.

Lou Gossett Jr. would be proud.

Despite the punishing length and fidelity to formula, ``The Guardian'' isn't a disaster and is often quite watchable. The action set pieces are accomplished, particularly a rescue- gone-wrong near the beginning of the film that sets the plot in motion.

Costner's got it

And time has only increased Costner's appeal and believability as a no-nonsense teacher. Now past 50, the facial lines have deepened, the frame is a little bulkier and the actor is able to conjure signs of remorse that bear some weight.

The performance shines like a flair in the dull dimness surrounding it, illuminating but limited in its ultimate effect.

Glenn Whipp, (818) 713-3672

glenn.whipp@dailynews.com

THE GUARDIAN - Two and one half stars

(PG-13: intense sequences of action/peril, brief strong language, some sensuality)

Starring: Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher.

Director: Andrew Davis.

Running time: 2 hr. 18 min.

Playing: In wide release.

In a nutshell: Overlong, but fitfully watchable thanks to some decent action sequences and Kevin Costner's movie-star performance.

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photo

Photo:

Kevin Costner, left, plays a Coast Guard swimmer charged with whipping recruits, including hotshot Ashton Kutcher into shape, in ``The Guardian.''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 29, 2006
Words:483
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