Director: Clark Johnson
Cast: Michael Douglas, Kiefer Sutherland, Eva Longoria, Martin Donovan, Ritchie Coster, Kim Basinger, David Rasche
MPAA Rating: (for some intense action violence and a scene of sensuality)
Running Time: 1:48
Release Date: 4/21/06
Review by Mark Dujsik
Two parts effective, one part preposterous, The Sentinel is pretty much in line with the majority of Hollywood thrillers that work in spite of themselves. The plot is utterly convoluted and minor details are so laughable as to draw attention to themselves, but the movie is performed well enough by actors who can stare into the pieces of silliness around them without getting egg in their faces. Thrillers are funny like that. The great ones have a human core to center an audience in something familiar and to juxtapose the outlandish events that surround it. The bad ones forget characters and take their premises so seriously they become comedies. Ones like The Sentinel don't care too much about character but do recognize the escapist heart of the material. They sometimes work for cheap thrills and unintentional laughs, or they exist in that limbo of the forgettable. Did I enjoy The Sentinel? To a degree. Will I remember it next month? Most undoubtedly no. Does that matter? There's the rub. These are movies of the moment, meant to be gobbled up quickly and forgotten immediately after. For the critic, then, a final judgment is almost up to a mental coin toss.
Pete Garrison (Michael Douglas) saved Ronald Reagan's life over twenty years ago by jumping in front of a would-be assassin's bullet. He's still in his old job position, now guarding President Ballentine (David Rasche) and first lady Sarah (Kim Basinger).. Probably a big no-no of the job, Garrison is having an affair with the first lady. Such behavior has gotten him in trouble before. His former protégé and best friend David Breckinridge (Kiefer Sutherland) is convinced Garrison had an affair with his wife, although that rumor turns out to be false. Either way, Garrison's personal life is about to greatly interfere with his professional one. An agent is gunned down on his front porch after telling Garrison he has some important information he must reveal in private. As an investigative agent, the murder falls into Breckinridge's terrain, and he takes his new trainee Jill Marin (Eva Longoria), another of Garrison's discoveries, along. As the pieces fall together, it becomes apparent that there's a traitor in the ranks of the Secret Service attempting to assassinate the President, and as Breckinridge unravels the mystery, Garrison becomes the prime suspect.
Of course, he's being framed, and of course, he begins to do his own detective work while on the lam. The already explored twist is that Garrison knows how his pursuers will work against him, leaving him to maneuver around the by-the-books Breckinridge. One of the many odd things that results is Garrison's uncanny ability to gain access to heavily guarded places and otherwise move around while very competent people hunt him. Credibility issues, I suppose, are to be overlooked within the context of the suspension of disbelief, but there's a lot of disbelief to suspend in Garrison's easy access. The plot progression is fairly standard, and as the mystery unfolds, there are a lot of questions left unanswered. That's to be expected to some extent, but it is frustrating nonetheless. The identity of the group behind the assassination plot and why they have started it are revealed with a single, mystifying line referencing the former KGB, but obviously, it makes little to no sense. The ultimate identity of the mole is also a bit anticlimactic, not because of its obviousness but because of its randomness.
The movie is directed by Clark Johnson, a television veteran who should probably stay there (no offense intended; he's a regular behind the camera on "The Shield," possibly the best show on television). Johnson's other dubious claim to feature fame is as director of S.W.A.T., and the action sequences here are a vast improvement. Or at least both of them are. A shootout in a mall is brief, but the sense of confused mayhem works. My only question, how does a dead body find its final resting place ascending an escalator? Seriously, that single shot is utterly baffling and is obviously there only because Johnson figured it looked interesting. A lot more effective is an extended firefight in a stairwell. Johnson uses the dynamics of the location—levels, limited sightlines—to great effect. It also gives Kiefer Sutherland his only opportunity to make a Jack Bauer moment. Sutherland's fine, and so is Michael Douglas. They manage to lend the material a certain level of believability that is so clearly missing from the unlikely proceedings.
Mentioning and comparing The Sentinel to "24" is tempting because of Sutherland's involvement, but it's also a bit lazy. I know my colleagues will find the comparison too tempting, so no offense to those who do. The Sentinel is merely on par with what we've come to expect with average Hollywood thrillers.
Copyright © 2006 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.