Do you know D.C.?
Get our free newsletter to stay in the know about local D.C.
In The Guardian, Kevin Costner’s Bull Durham of the sea, you can snicker at teacherisms such as, “I have high hopes for this class. I have high hopes for you.” Or you may choose to lower your standards a bit and enjoy Andrew Davis’ movie for what it is: a Perfect Storm–brutal, Tough Mentor/Stubborn Student Flick of the Season cliché that’s better than any Costner–Ashton Kutcher vehicle ought to be. Maybe it’s because Davis, director of The Fugitive and Collateral Damage, knows that the roughest battle here isn’t man versus man, nor man versus himself, though both of these options are well-represented. No, it’s Mother Nature who will bitchslap tough guys and their egos back to the first day of kindergarten. Just like Costner’s grizzled veteran ballplayer in Durham—and his grizzled veteran golf pro in Tin Cup, and his return to grizzled veteran ballplayer in For Love of the Game—his Ben Randall is, let’s say, a no-nonsense veteran rescue swimmer with the Coast Guard. Ben is the best, naturally, except he’s haunted by a mission that turned deadly. His superiors command him to take a mental-health reassignment training the new group of recruits, among whom is Jake Fischer (Kutcher), who immediately pronounces that he’s going to break all of Ben’s records. Cue epic stare-downs, harsher-than-usual exercises, an unbelievable love affair, deep dark secrets, and triumph of the wills. Costner’s typecasting again works just fine, and Kutcher’s dramatic chops are improving a bit, though his stronger scenes include bits of comedy. Writer Ron L. Brinkerhoff, whose only previous credit is 2002’s limited-release D-Tox, is no genius with the plot details, dropping characters and filling a good chunk of the two-plus-hour movie with drills (and, for variety, montages of drills). But, kind of like Fear Factor without the bull testicles, the footage that shows what these kids have to go through is pretty compelling on its own: treading water for an hour, sitting in an ice-filled pool, being dumped into the middle of the ocean while their helicopter goes bye-bye. And the rescues themselves are spectacular, such as a middle-of-the-night, rain-pelted shipwreck and a tense assignment in the frigid, wind-whipped Bering Sea. When you’re holding your breath, it’s hard to scoff.—Tricia Olszewski