- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 30, 2006

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving the entertainment lives of families, provides reviews of the latest movies from a parenting perspective. For more reviews, click on commonsensemedia.org.

‘The Guardian’

Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action/peril, brief strong language and some sensuality.

Common Sense Media: Pause. For ages 13 and older.

(out of five stars)

Running time: 136 minutes

Common Sense note: Parents need to know that this action drama includes several harrowing scenes of storms and boats sinking at sea. Rescue swimmers valiantly try to save victims, but some deaths occur on-screen (not bloody, but sad and — in one case — disturbing). Children with fears about water probably should see something else.

Families can talk about ways to deal with trauma. How does the movie make the case that focusing on the future (in the form of students to be taught and lives to be saved) helps Ben overcome his guilt, anger and frustration? What are other ways — both successful and unsuccessful — that people deal with traumatic events? How do Ben and Jake’s similarities (ambition, competitiveness, tragic pasts) make them ideal partners? What other movies have used a similar structure (tough veteran mentors, young hot shot)? Families also can discuss the work of the Coast Guard, including the unit’s heroic rescues on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.

Common Sense review: With a retread plot, plenty of boy-bonding action and a shirtless Ashton Kutcher, Andrew Davis’ “The Guardian” is a by-the-numbers crowd pleaser that’s about as dull as a heroic redemption story could be.

Kevin Costner stars as Ben Randall, a veteran Coast Guard rescue swimmer who turns to teaching after a traumatic event leaves him unable to carry on as usual. Per formula, parallel redemption stories grant “emotional” moments to both Ben and Mr. Kutcher’s Jake Fischer. Ben needs to recover his nerve, and cocky student Jake must learn to play nicely with others, including his girlfriend, Emily (Melissa Sagemiller). Both teacher and student have suffered; the revelations of that suffering lead each to his own sort of manly recommitment.

When he arrives at the rescue-swimming training facility, Ben’s red-lit nightmares are compounded by the fact that his long-suffering wife, Helen (Sela Ward), has left him. Between chewing Vicodin and slugging Wild Turkey, Ben grumps at the recruits, who, apart from Jake, range from ignorant to timid. For 18 weeks, Ben drills his trainees hard, in freezing water and for long hours. During his downtime, Ben calls Helen to beg forgiveness and helps Jake avenge a beating he received from disdainful Navy sailors at the “squid bar” where Coast Guard recruits aren’t supposed to go.

Although the trainees’ ranks include a woman, the focus here is on boys learning to be men. Ben and Jake see themselves in each other, pretty much to the exclusion of anyone else. It’s clear that for all their earnest, actorly efforts, neither man has a chance against Ron L. Brinkerhoff’s hackneyed script.

Sexual content: A fairly young couple engages in sexual activity, including passionate kisses and some playful rolling in bed, wearing underwear and mostly under the covers.

Language alert: One extreme expletive and other profanities.

Violence alert: Several violent storms at sea; flashbacks show the dangers of Coast Guard rescue swimming; a rescuer has to punch a hysterical victim; a couple of rescuers die; a helicopter crashes and explodes; a trainer is punched in the nose and bleeds; a couple of bar fights.

Social-behavior alert: Characters drink in bars to get drunk; some vomiting; Ben takes Vicodin to kill physical and emotional pain; some cigarette smoking.

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