Pete Garrison (Michael Douglas) is a veteran of the US Secret Service who took a bullet for the president twenty years ago, and now heads the First Lady's (Kim Basinger) detail. Pete's well ordered life appears to be moving like clockwork until his colleague, Charlie Merriweather (Clark Johnson), is found murdered. Charlie had hinted at a secret he wished to share, and Pete is soon convinced that there is a mole inside the service, plotting to kill the president. But investigative agent David Breckinridge (Kiefer Sutherland) is skeptical. He and his rookie, Jill Marin (Eva Longoria), uncover evidence that points to Pete himself as the mole. Pete has the ability to clear his name, but only at the expense of someone very dear to him. Instead he goes off the radar, hunted by his own colleagues, determined to find the mole and prove his innocence.
You have to wonder if there is really any more excitement to be wrung out of the idea that the US President's life is in danger. Even the most patriotic of Yanks must be weary of Hollywood's unending celluloid assaults on their beloved Commander in Chief. Everyone from Muslim extremists, to Chechyans, to Martians has had their swing at the old boy. And if there is any frisson at all left in this tired plot, it certainly isn't on show in this pompous blowhard of a movie.
The Sentinel might not have turned out so badly if the screenplay was a little more honest with itself. The film bustles around aggressively, pretending with all its might to be an intelligent political thriller, when in reality it is a plain vanilla action flick, and a dumb one at that.
The best example of this idiocy is that the film never bothers to establish any context for the threat to the President's life. In a bizarre contradiction it wants to be a political thriller, but it steers well clear of politics of any kind. Even when the president addresses a generic gathering of bigwigs, his nonsensical speech might as well be shortened to "Blah, blah, blah". That someone wants him dead is simply taken as a given.
This arrogant air of assumption pollutes the entire film. It assumes we agree with its ethics and its unthinking patriotism. It takes for granted that we will be titillated by the idea of a traitor in the Super Secret Squirrel Service, even though we have seen the same damn plot played out in all their other black-suit-obsessed government agencies. Above all it assumes we actually care about an office that has been dragged through the sewer by George W. Bush.
Even without the repugnant flag waving, there would be little to recommend the film. Though it has the sheen of a big budget affair, the mechanics feel more like a TV show. This isn't much of a surprise since director Clark Johnson has spent a career directing and acting in TV shows. His only other feature film is the equally dumb S.W.A.T., itself based on a TV show.
It's not that TV directors can't make the leap to film, it's more that Johnson can't seem to take advantage of the scope of his new medium. His films feel like dolled up TV episodes rather than fully-fledged movies. Even worse, The Sentinel is dolled up in all the wrong ways, with jittery editing and garish cinematography that only highlight its clumsiness.
Johnson's cause is further harmed by a supporting cast stocked with TV stars. Kiefer Sutherland proved his mettle as a film actor long ago, but in The Sentinelhe comes across as a cheap copy of Jack Bauer, his character in24. Eva Longoria, of Desperate Housewives fame, fairs no better. She is pigeonholed as a sex object and subjected to much metaphorical head patting and bottom pinching. As far as the lead goes, Douglas is getting too old for this sort of nonsense, and he ends of looking a bloody fool most of the time.
The film's notes make a great deal of the weapons and tactics training given to the actors, as well as the "authenticity" of details like clothing and lingo. Enthusiasts of such things may be able to squeeze some enjoyment out of these tidbits. As it stands they are the only "real" things in this hollow rehash of a film. Everyone else will have to content themselves with staring at Eva Longoria or Michael Douglas. Anything to avoid listening to those damned fake speeches.
- Alistair Fairweather
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