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Originally published Friday, September 29, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"The Guardian": Lives adrift brought together by fierce seas

Little about "The Guardian" will surprise anyone from one scene to the next, though the ride is hardly unpleasant and the story is generous...

Special to The Seattle Times

Little about "The Guardian" will surprise anyone from one scene to the next, though the ride is hardly unpleasant and the story is generous in scope.

Kevin Costner, playing his umpteenth variation on a hero suffering from burnout, loss, compromised ideals and/or the bogey of inauthenticity, is Coast Guard rescue swimmer Ben Randall. Ben is the kind of emergency-management specialist who feels a strong responsibility to use his gifts whenever possible, because such gifts are rare and because his personal and professional creed are the same: Save lives.

Jumping from helicopters into impossibly violent seas, Ben helps kayakers, folks on sinking fishing vessels, pleasure-boaters going down fast, etc. He rescues those he can and accepts that making life-or-death decisions is part of the job.

Movie review 3 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"The Guardian," with Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher, Sela Ward, Bonnie Bramlett, Melissa Sagemiller, John Heard, Clancy Brown. Directed by Andrew Davis, from a screenplay by Ron L. Brinkerhoff. 136 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense action scenes, violence, mild sexual content. Several theaters.

But he's not the kind of guy who leaves it all behind when he goes home. Ben's clearly haunted by deaths he couldn't prevent, and his work ethic has worn his marriage to Helen (Sela Ward) to a nub. When a rescue goes bad one night, killing crewmates and almost killing Ben, he's in no shape emotionally to do anything but accept an assignment teaching the next generation of Coast Guard swimmers.

Enter Ashton Kutcher as Jake, the most talented but unreachable trainee under Ben's not-quite-by-the-book, real-world version of rescue class. Like Ben, Jake is very good at water skills but is held back, psychologically, by demons of his own.

The relationship between veteran and rookie is entirely predictable all the way through the film's harrowing climax. But it's predictable in the sense that "The Guardian" is so obviously governed by dramatic symmetry, poetic ironies and affectionate mythmaking that you naturally anticipate the story's rhythms and find expectations realized.

Which is fine, because there's lots of room in a movie like this for small pleasures between the big strokes. Director Andrew Davis ("The Fugitive") piles them on, including a wonderful performance by blues-rock legend Bonnie Bramlett (of Delaney and Bonnie) as a maternal barkeep, and sassy work by Melissa Sagemiller as Jake's reluctant girlfriend.

Davis' action sequences at sea are indeed gripping, and Kutcher has probably never been more likable or sympathetic. Costner's Ben — as with most of the actor's characters — looks like he's being swallowed whole by destiny. No surprises there.

Tom Keogh:

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