As a legendary Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer Ben Randall (Kevin Costner) was all heart and no regret. But it all comes undone in the span of one night when he goes out to the menacing seas with his crew to make a rescue and he is the sole survivor. Following that fateful night he’s ordered to teach at “A” School--a demotion for a man of his stature and seniority--an elite training program that helps turn the best recruits into the best Rescue Swimmers. Randall teaches the cocky students the only way he knows how and his tough tough love is initially met with skepticism by his fellow trainers who think of him as a has-been. But one student in particular Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher) catches his eye and draws his ire. Fischer is cocky hotheaded and highly skilled--just the right pedigree to make a great Rescue Swimmer and a lot like Randall was at his age. Randall rides him extra-hard while Fischer only hopes to one day be in the same boat as his mentor. Be careful what you wish for Jake! Costner's always been an acquired taste--sometimes a downright noxious one on first bite--but there's no denying he slides right in here. Roles that feature him as the aging provider of wisdom are now his true calling and the sooner he accepts it the better. And even still Costner gets to flex his action muscle a bit. As for Kutcher the only thing he shares in common with Costner is the last two letters of his last name--as actors these guys are each other’s antitheses! And in a weird way they strike a nice chemistry because of it one that is borderline exciting to watch. As a standalone actor in The Guardian Kutcher is a bit misplaced and seems to know it. He nails the physicality of the role but while the character's attitude and brashness befit Kutcher the peak dramatic scenes with Costner leave something to be desired. A pleasantly surprising turn from relative unknown Melissa Sagemiller (The Clearing) as Kutcher's girl toy and reliable supporting performances from Sela Ward and Neal McDonough round out the cast. Director Andrew Davis' proximity to his career peak The Fugitive cannot be measured in time: He's a lot further away from the mega-hit than a mere 13 years. But in Hollywood if you have a Fugitive under your belt you'll never run out of chances to replicate it. That's the current juncture for Davis--one last shot at Fugitive glory...till his next last shot. It's hard to say what The Guardian will do at the box office but Davis' stodgy direction doesn't necessarily help its chances. The movie can be boiled down to awful pacing: the first and last 15 minutes are high-octane action and everything in between is low-octane Top Gun (the non-action scenes!). That blame belongs to Davis and writer Ron L. Brinkerhoff. But only Davis can shoulder the other flaws such as a single scene of dubious camerawork--filmed to look like handheld-montage style completely deviating from the movie's context--and the special effects during the somewhat cheesy action sequences which may remind you of a theme-park tour during which you learn how they filmed a boat scene...in the '80s!
In 1966 one story of sports bravery begat another and together they would forever change the face(s) of basketball if not the nation. When Don Haskins (Josh Lucas) accepts a job to coach at Texas Western University he’s forced to recruit several black players instead of highly touted white players due to budgetary constraints and a program that doesn’t exactly match that of that of say Kentucky University. Black players were taboo back then thus turning the team into fodder for hate crimes and ridicule. But Haskins doesn’t allow his players to get caught up in the national furor and they show their allegiance to him by taking any and all aggression out on opposing players on the court the beleaguered players reaching a Zen in which they only hear their coach. They make it to the championship game where they play an all-white Kentucky team in a sort of past-versus-future landmark showdown. Someone out in Hollywood is determined to make Josh Lucas a star—or at least the next Matthew McConaughey. After Stealth failed to do that and everything else he landed another huge role in Glory and it just might be the right fit. Lucas’s No. 1 asset might always be his looks—looks that will at least sustain female viewers’ interest during Glory—but if there is to be a proverbial breakout performance this will be it. Lucas doesn’t quite exude “basketball coach ” even with unrelenting screaming at players but he wears the Southern-isms well and the more dramatic moments reveal his potential. Jon Voight also stars as Adolph Ruff storied coach of Kentucky. Voight’s makeup job places him somewhere between his Howard Cosell in Ali and Nicole Kidman’s make-under in The Hours but he again does justice to a controversial sports legend. Noted TV-commercial director James Gartner makes his directorial debut on Glory but it’s uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer who makes a more lasting imprint on the film—he Bruckheimer-izes it if you will making a sports drama look like Bad Boys at times. Gone are the victorious and uplifting personal stories of oppression overcome in the 1960’s South; superimposed instead are comedic embellishments off-court hijinks and mere snippets of courageous depictions. This admittedly keeps the film flowing but it also in a way trivializes the story’s impact. Gartner ultimately re-creates the basketball scenes amazingly well though which is where the movie truly shines. For that reason it’s a shame Bruckheimer had to impart his glossy stylings at all because it seems like Gartner was doing just fine on his own.