The Guardian

The Guardian

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The big question for Kevin Costner this week is: is it safe to go back in the water? Yes, the man pilloried for his deep sea shenanigans in Waterworld is taking the plunge once again as a swimmer in the US coastguard.

While he may not be about to make the biggest splash ever, it's fair to say that this film at least stays afloat. Costner is Ben Randall but - more importantly - he is a rock. He's solid, a bit craggy and, in case we don't get it, he works in a place called 'the rock'. He is tough, chews gum and says things like: "When we go home, they die." This guy is rocky, folks, and so is his relationship with his wife.

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Oh yes, like a synchronised swimteam, we're getting every choreographed move of the "old, seasoned but troubled hero tries to help young, bolshy but troubled young hero to be a better person" routine.

To be fair, that isn't a bad jumping off point. Our rocky rescuer is feeling all washed up after a mission goes badly wrong, so he's sent to teach at the academy where his unorthodox methods prove tricky for staff and students alike. One in particular: Jake Fischer - the Fish - (Ashton Kutcher) thinks he's better than most but, naturally, he's got one of those deep, dark secrets that make him who he is today.

The performances are strong with Costner, in particular, convincing in the sort of role Bruce Willis used to trot out every year or so. Parallels are bound to be drawn with Top Gun - and they are there - although the quality of the acting here and the deeper level of characterisation makes this, on the whole, a better film. There is a breadth of quality about the acting, including a fine performance from Sela Ward as Ben's estranged wife - making a lot more of her role than her meagre scripting suggests.

The action scenes are fine enough - although you can see the CGI at the edges and they just aren't quite as tense as they should be and despite the crashing waves, the sea looks fake on occasion. The music cues are also, uniformly, dreadful, with the director seemingly unable to choose between blaring pop music and sweeping orchestration. Plus there is a lot of totally unnecessary 'technique' on show. For example, slo-mo is occasionally added for no apparent reason and it detracts from rather than adds to the scene.

The film's biggest problem, however, aside from its predictability, is that it is far too long - a perennial problem for Costner. With at least three endings in tow, by the time the final denoument occurs everything feels a bit washed out.

Reviewed on: 12 Oct 2006
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An ambitious would-be lifeguard learns the ropes from a man who's seen it all.
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Jennie Kermode **

Director: Andrew Davis

Writer: Ron L Brinkerhoff

Starring: Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher, Sela Ward, Melissa Sagemiller, Clancy Brown, Omari Hardwick, Alex Daniels, Daniel J. Molthen, Andrew Schanno, Adam Pena, Joe Arquette

Year: 2006

Runtime: 136 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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