Dir: Andrew Davis. US. 2006.139mins.

A square-jawed, water-set tale of tutelage andtrumped personal adversity that takes place against the backdrop of a varietyof rescues in dangerously stormy weather, Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher's TheGuardian is a sincere and capably executed film, if ultimately also adispensable one.

Despite copious exclamationsof "hoo-rah!" and the like, the sort of machismo ondisplay in The Guardian is fairlytame; the movie isn't an overt and specific portrait of American militaryculture in the vein of this year's Annapolis.The film looks to rack up most of its ticket sales Stateside, where it opens onSept 29, as Costner hasn't had an overseas hit arguably since 1999's Message In A Bottle, Kutcherlikewise hasn't distinguished himself as an international factor at the box-officefactor and the subject matter doesn't carry the advantage of a big, sweepingaction spectacle that will travel.

While its rescue sequencesare credibly handled, The Guardian lacksthe gigantic scope and additional nonfiction heft of Wolfgang Petersen's The Perfect Storm, the surprise hit ofthe summer of 2000. It is also doubtful if younger audiences will spark to theunfamiliar world of aquatic first-responders any more than that of MGM's WorldWar One aviation epic Flyboys, whichsputtered upon take-off last week. By repackaging tropes in a non-trendyvehicle with overly indulgent running times, both films face delegation tosolid catalogue and ancillary returns, though The Guardian at least has the advantage of two identifiableheadliners, which should help it at least open big and enjoy mid-level returns.

Set in Alaska, the story centresaround the mentor-protegerelationship between a veteran Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer and one of his youngcharges. Ben Randall (Costner) is legendary amongst his peers, but after aterrible accident claims his crew, he's haunted by the memory. His commandertemporarily reassigns him to an instructional post, where we meet Jake Fischer(Kutcher), an ex-high school swim champion who hasspurned a variety of college scholarship offers to give the Coast Guard's "A" SchoolFor Rescue Divers a crack.

The elite program has awashout rate of more than 50 percent, but Jake readily distinguishes himself,even if his focus on training records makes Ben uncertain that he's there forthe right reasons ' to save lives. What TheGuardian has in abundant earnestness, it also matches in recycledconventions, as various military picgenre touchstones ' tortured flashbacks and nightmares, unconventional trainingmethodologies, inter-branch antagonism, romance with a townie ' all receivehearty workout.

A good half hour or morecould easily have been cleaved off of TheGuardian were it not for the picture's dutiful insistence to hit all thebeats of synthetic conflict, from Ben's crumbling marriage, a casualty ofworkaholic neglect, to an arbitrary second act detour in a confrontational Navybar. A love story between Jake and local schoolteacher Emily Thomas (Melissa Sagemiller), while bringing a wisp of early levity to theproceedings, is also a non-starter.

Ironically, too, it's thispersistence in attempting to give Ben and Jake lives outside of work that robsthe movie of a chance to get to know any of its other characters beyond purelythe functions they serve in the story. Ron L Brinkerhoff's script is a finemodel of structure, but offers little in the way of interpersonalinsightfulness, and its rescue finale is a somewhat credibility-stretchingcombination of all tests rolled into one. A late play at mythic significancealso misfires.

Costner, unlike some agingsemi-contemporaries, seems quite at ease sliding into grizzled mentor-typeroles. He already has such a pleasantly well-worn demeanor suited to theseroles that you glimpse, even in something as predictable as The Guardian, a successful future insubstantive movies about aging, busted romances and reconciliation.

Kutcher, meanwhile, showed in A Lot Like Love that he could subjugatehis sitcom instincts and play the "normal" orbiting body to a more colorful oroutrageous character, at least in a comic/romantic context. In the role ofapprentice here, however, he's less successful. Part of this is a function ofhow the character of Jake is written ' vaguely haunted by a secret we know willeventually come out, but not truly obstinate enough to create substantialfriction with Ben ' but his performance is also uneven, hampered early on byindistinct, wide-eyed stares.

In passing fancy, Bonnie Bramlett makes a memorable impression in a small part as asalty bar owner and singer, a woman who's lived, loved, lost and regrets noneof it.

On the technical side,cinematographer Stephen St John displays a varied palette, giving an earlytraining montage, set to Kasabian's grinding Club Foot, a handheld, docu-drama feel, then slipping in effortless fashion intothe murky greys of a driving rain. Director AndrewDavis (The Fugitive), meanwhile,credibly trades in CG waterworks that will appropriately remind many of The Perfect Storm, if not its scale.

Production companies
Beacon Pictures
Touchstone Pictures
Firm Films

US distribution
Touchstone Pictures

International sales
Buena Vista International

Executive producers
Charlie Lyons
Peter MacGregor-Scott
Armyan Bernstein
Zanne Devine

Beau Flynn
Tripp Vinson

Ron L Brinkerhoff

Stephen St John

Production design
Maher Ahmad

Dennis Virkler
Thomas J Nordberg

Trevor Rabin

Main cast
Kevin Costner
Ashton Kutcher
Neal McDonough
Melissa Sagemiller
Clancy Brown
Brian Geraghty
Dule Hill
Sela Ward
Bonnie Bramlett
John Heard