The Sentinel

In The Sentinel, a banal political thriller that recycles ideas and characters of old suspensers, Michael Douglas plays a legendary Secret Service agent who's roughly Clint Eastwood's age when he played a similar role in Wolfgang Petersen's In the Line of Fire. The two movies should not even be mentioned in the same sentence. The Sentinel is such a pale and clichd imitation that it's almost too embarrassing to watch.

The Sentinel raises two questions. First, can a political thriller be effective without having an interesting villain And second, what happens when the villain can be spotted by the viewers miles away, in the first reel The answer to the first query is a definite no, and to the second, it means that the movie is a bad thriller.

I have not read Gerald Petievich's novel upon which George Nolfi's screenplay is based, but The Sentinel must be one of the worst Michael Douglas star vehicles in a long time. Douglas, who is beginning to age and seems uncomfortable in the role, gives a laid-back, almost lazy peformance.

Douglas plays Pete Garrison, a well-respect agent whose reputation is based on having stopped one of John Hinckley Jr.s bullets from hitting President Ronald Reagan 25 years ago; the movie begins with a black-and-white footage of that incident.

Despite prestigious past and considerable ambitions, for some reason, Garrison's career has never quite taken off the way he wanted it. Well-liked and respected by his colleagues in the Secret Service, Garrison is now a career agent who heads the First Lady's detail.

Garrison lives in a high-level orderly world
of hierarchical structure dominated by plans, maps, motorcades, code names, lingo, and procedures. We get the sense of a man who's almost too set on his habits.

Stort kicks in when Garrison's friend and fellow agent, Charlie Meriweather (Clarque Johnson) hints that he wants to share with him some critical and conidential information. However, wouldn't you know it Before that meeting takes place, Merriweather is shot dead at his own house, in a staged crime that's made to look like a botched robbery.

In the first reel, we are introduced to David Breckinridge (Kiefer Sutherland), Garrison's young and former protg, who is now in charge of investigating Merriweather's murder. On the surface, he seems to be the opposite of Garrison: He represents a volatile combination of hothead and by-the-book (just like the movie itself).

The tension between the two men, who are barely on speaking terms, is based on Breckinridge's suspicion that Garrison had slept with his wife, thus wrecking his marriage. It doesn't help that Breckinridge is an ace agent with a brilliant career, who now trains his own rookies, such as Jill Marin (Eva Longoria of Desperate Housewives' fame)

In the name of “progress” and sexual equality, Marin is a tough, sassy and ambitious young agent, who just graduated second in her class at the Secret Service Academy. Marin has requested a work detail with Breckinridge because Garrison told her that he was the best investigator in the entire force. Never mind that we have seen such tough women in Clint Eastwood's policiers twenty years ago.

We also learn that Garrison is having an affair with the Presidents wife, Sarah Ballentine (Kim Basinger), who's unhappily married. Garrison and the First Lady manage to carry on their illicit affair in the White House, surrounded by numerous security guards.

When evidence of a Presidential assassination plot involving a mole within the agency comes to light, Garrison fails a polygraph test and becomes the main suspect–he refuses to reveal his liaison with the First Lady. Thus begin a third-rate Hitchcockian plot about “the Wrong Man Who Needs to Prove his Innocence,” with the movie now “borrow” from The Fugitive as well.

Actor-director Clark Johnson (S.W.A.T.) is a craftsman who ca stage routing chases and other action sequences but is unable to create or sustain any tension. Johnson's only impressive contribution is fast pacing, which may be necessary here so that the audience will not have time to detect the huge holes in a plot that lacks any credibility. For starters, would anyone assign a rookie like Jill Marin to the White House as her first job

Both Douglas and Sutherland have done better work before. Any randomly chosen episode of Sutherland's popular TV series 24 is probably superior to The Sentinel. It may or may not be a coincidence that physically the actors who play the President, Garrison, and Breckinridge look alike.

As for the women, they are given nothing substantial to say or to do. Basinger is wearing the same anxious expression throughout the film, and Longoria is young and photogenic, but it's hard to tell whether she has future on the big-screen.

A tired piece of work, The Sentinel gives a bad name to Hollywood's tradition of genre movies. Her is an idea: Since TV seems to have appropriated the White House (West Wing, Commander in Chief) as its own entertainment, it may be time for Hollywood to call a moratorium on political thrillers involving presidents, secuirty advisors, and secret agents.