As the cynics no doubt expected, there are a lot of problem with The Guardian. So, let's address those right up front. First, at nearly 140 minutes, it's way too long, a flaw made even more galling by the fact that the movie blows by a perfect, melancholy close about 20 minutes from its ultimate ending. Second, most of the effects are awful. Since at this point CGI technology remains unable to convincingly portray mass, giant open-ocean waves are not terrifying, but distractingly awkward. Third, the movie is lousy with cliches. From the rookie with a troubled past who rises to greatness to the grizzled veteran with problems of his own who gives the kid a hard time to force him to grow, we've seen all these characters before and we know them very, very well. Apart from the movie's Coast Guard setting, there's very little original to be found inside it. Got all that? Good. Because despite these obvious, sometimes major flaws, The Guardian is a winning, well-made film, the quality and pace of which come as a great relief in the sea of violent, cynical, explosion-laden nonsense that big studios generally sell.

The Guardian's troubled youngster is Jake Fischer, furiously played by Ashton Kutcher. As you might expect, the details of his past are not revealed until late in the film, but the questions are there from the outset: A highly recruited swimmer when he left high school, Fischer refused every prestigious scholarship offer and disappeared, only to surface at a Coast Guard training facility. Not lacking in confidence, Fischer nevertheless shrugs off questions about his past, preferring to focus on proving himself in this new world, and living up to the impossibly high standards set by Master Chief Ben Randall (Kevin Costner), the man tasked with turning the (vaguely diverse, appropriately motley) group of enlistees into elite rescue swimmers.