Rick Carlson (Sam Elliott) is still a lifeguard on a California beach, even though he's now in his mid-thirties, and today his new lifeguard partner, Chris Randall (Parker Stevenson) is joining him at the station. Rick quickly teaches him the rules of the job, and points out who and what to keep an eye on for safety's sake. Rick lives the life of a bachelor and is looking forward to tonight when he will be enjoying a romp with a naked stewardess, Tina (Sharon Clark), but come the evening - and after the romping - he is found in reflective mood. He's not getting any younger and there's no sign of him settling down, so should he be thinking of doing so?
The moustache belonging to Sam Elliott is much underrated, don't you think? Sure, there are the facial furniture belonging to your Tom Sellecks and your Burt Reynoldses to take into account, but was there ever an actor who suited a moustache more than Elliott, apart from Clark Gable perhaps? When he shaves it off for the odd role every once in a while, he just doesn't look right. In this contemplative drama, the 'tache is well to the fore, illustrating Rick's virility and pointing to his success with the ladies, and the consequences are a film that looks like someone decided to make Jaws without the involvement of the shark.
Lifeguard was written by Ron Koslow and has such a slight plot that it threatens to ramble away into random beach scenes. It comes over as an excuse to soak up sunshine for the filmmakers, and some shots appear to have been taken while the crew lazed around and aimed their camera at whatever caught their attention for a minute or two. But look a little deeper and there's a story of a man fearing the onset of middle age and the regret of a general lack of achievement playing on his mind. When Rick visits his parents for dinner, a previously good natured evening turns argumentative when his father demands to know what he'll be when he grows up.
Then there are the romantic complications. One day on the beach, Rick gives a seventeen-year-old girl, Wendy (Kathleen Quinlan), a band aid, and pretty soon that's not all he gives her when she develops a crush on him. Despite the age difference, the lonely girl who has just moved to Los Angeles with her parents coaxes Rick into a physical relationship, an aspect we don't witness but can guess at when an unseen singer croons about feeling like a woman today on the soundtrack. Yes, Lifeguard is corny, but Rick and Wendy's scenes together are played with sensitivity.
If Wendy represents Rick's lost youth, then his present is embodied by his childhood sweetheart, Cathy (Anne Archer) re-entering his life when he attends his fifteen year, Class of 1960 reunion. Notably more glamorous than any other woman there, Cathy has just divorced, and is living as an art dealer in a big house with her young son, and Rick is happy to rekindle his love affair with her. But will he settle down with her?, is what we want to know. In fact, will he settle down with anybody? Thankfully he doesn't pursue his supposed-to-be-charming-but-verging-on-the-uncomfortable relationship with Wendy, but with a good job selling Porsches on the horizon, it could be time for him to give up the lifeguard vocation. Or will he accept that he's content the way he is, for now at least? It doesn't amount to much, but like the easygoing Rick the film leaves a good impression. Music by Dale Menten.