Swimming to America

The Guardian

Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher, and Sela Ward star in a film written by Ron L. Brinkerhoff and directed by Andrew Davi.

Reviewed by D.J. Palladino

photo_05_hires.jpgIt’s hard to ignore the appeal of Kevin Costner educating Ashton Kutcher on the depths of sorrow. Though in real life both belong to the same fraternity, Delta Chi, and both are masters of the laconic drawl and batted-eye school of masculinity, neither can compete with Clint Eastwood’s eloquent wrinkles or the battered human carriage of Anthony Hopkins. Nonetheless, we must not forget that both Costner and Kutcher have weathered their shares of both edgy films and duds. (Costner in No Way Out and The Postman; Kutcher in The Butterfly Effect and Dude, Where’s My Car?) Both are charismatically handsome, and often for swimming scenes that’s more than enough. Better yet, this turns out to be a natural pairing; there is even chemistry, an unexpected coup de grâce for our own action filmmaker hero Andrew Davis. What may surprise you about the film is Kutcher’s sensitive moment. The downside of Davis’s script and film is that it too often invokes comparison with An Officer and a Gentleman and, shudder, Top Gun.

Kutcher swaggers, wears wire-rimmed shades, meets with a village damsel, gets taken down a notch, and then proves himself in action. What mostly saves Davis, though, are the script’s moments of unexpected tenderness. Costner plays an aging hotshot unable to pull himself out of the game. In a late-night scene, he’s lectured by a battle-weary bartender woman who preaches that the value of aging is its own reward for having lived a life. I’ve never seen a Hollywood film quite express this obvious, almost Chaucerian notion.

What really saves the film, though, is the focus of all this sweaty training. Davis has made a military-genre film about Coast Guard swimmers saving — not destroying — lives. The legend of the guardian refers to a mythical protector lurking in murky waters who pulls drowning men from sure destruction. In this film the savior is the lingering humanity that Davis reminds us is still institutionalized in contemporary America

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