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Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2006 01:09 am

See hunky swimmers!

Coast Guard rescue flick teams Costner and Kutcher

The GuardianRunning Time: 2:12Rated PG-13

Veteran Coast Guard rescue swimmer Ben Randall (Kevin Costner) reluctantly takes on the job of instructing new recruits, and, wouldn’t you know it, he runs into a hardhead who, despite loads of talent, winds up bucking the system. Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher), owner of numerous high-school swimming records, is determined to breeze through the program, but Randall goes out of his way to set him straight. Yes, you’ve seen this film before, but Andrew Davis’ The Guardian successfully goes where the makers of Annapolis stumbled, delivering not only a rousing and exciting piece of Hollywood filmmaking but a moving one as well.

Using a handheld video camera during one training sequence, Davis captures the difficulty of Coast Guard training as we see the actors straining while pushing a cinder block across the bottom of a swimming pool and being submerged in a hot tub that’s been turned into a cold-storage unit, among other torments.

Heretofore, Kutcher has been something of a cipher on screen, but Costner makes him step up his game, and he finally makes an impression. Credit goes to Davis for instructing the young star to resist the temptation to overact in an attempt to compete with Costner. Their scenes crackle not so much with macho posturing but with a degree of honesty that’s refreshing. This carries over into the love stories the two are involved in, with Randall’s marriage to Helen (Sela Ward) coming to an end and Fischer’s fling with a local schoolteacher (Melissa Sagemiller) blossoming into love.

Although The Guardian may not get points for originality, it does execute its premise professionally and with gusto. That the action sequences in an $85 million film are well executed should come as no shock.

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