“If we could just get rid of these actors and directors, maybe we’ve got something here.” So says Tim Robbins’s Griffin Mill in The Player, in hopes of further streamlining the filmmaking process and boosting profits by squashing all potential for creativity along the way. Just as Altman eerily foreshadowed the assassination of national celebrity in Nashville, his indictment of the film industry similarly predicted such paint-by-numbers products as encapsulated by The Guardian, a standard product fresh off the assembly line, so polished and fine-tuned that the opening and closing credits are but a formality; with the right programming code, a computer could make this kind of movie with the same efficiency. The subject matter of choice this week is the National Coast Guard (for which the movie doubles as a two-hour-long advertisement, at one point abruptly shifting its film stock so as to resemble the very commercials already preceding the film in most theaters). Kevin Costner is the experienced enlistee, demoted to training a group of up-and-comers when his dedication to the Guard borders on self-destructive; Ashton Kutcher is the young whippersnapper whose attitude proves barbarous to his new trainer, despite his considerable swimming skills. Formulaic exposition follows, occasionally punctuated by more upbeat training exercises and rescue sessions, the emerging pattern about as invigorating as that of any standard screensaver. Nevertheless, it’s when The Guardian tries to posit profundity that it really wears out its welcome; nearly every other line of dialogue is a carefully calculated bit of wisdom into the value of saving lives, sacrifice, and teamwork, and every one of them rings with the dull thud of an overcooked movie tagline (a fact not helped by my own personal experience as a lifeguard, the demand—and personal fulfillment—of which is offensively reduced here to predigested bumper-sticker philosophy). The connection to the real world is limp at best; an aside comment about Coast Guard aid during Hurricane Katrina is so insubstantial as to suggest it was added during post-production. When the “uplifting” conclusion fades to black to reveal a dedication to those in service, the effect is not the intended moment of patriotic euphoria, but that of the sugar high that accompanies one’s devouring of a similarly worthless Happy Meal.
- Touchstone Pictures
- 136 min
- Andrew Davis
- Ron L. Brinkerhoff
- Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher, Derek Adams, Shelby Fenner, Omari Hardwick, John Heard, Domon Lipari, Neal McDonough, Scott Mueller, Sela Ward
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