Running Fast but Standing Still.
Can’t help feeling I’ve seen it all before somewhere:
Michael Douglas as a middle-aged man having an affair (FATAL ATTRACTION, DISCLOSURE); a plot to assassinate the President (IN THE LINE OF FIRE and a hundred other weaker films); Kiefer Sutherland playing some kind of government agent trying to prevent a Presidential assassination (24), and Kim Basinger as a sizzling sex diversion (well, that pretty much sums up Kim Basinger’s career in toto).
THE SENTINEL is further shaken by a screenwriter with shaky credits, George Nolfi (OCEAN’S TWELVE, TIMELINE) (from the novel by Gerald Petievich), a television director, Clark Johnson; leaning on another TV vet for the editing, Cindy Mollo, (who crash-cuts it for street cred) – and we end up with an unevenly entertaining, kinda television/feature film, which intermittently excels when it relaxes its grip on trying to be too hip.
Douglas is Pete Garrison, a Secret Service agent who took a bullet for President Reagan, and is now a respected, legendary, personal bodyguard for the current President’s First Lady, Sarah Ballentine (Basinger). Basinger is now old enough to play a convincing First Lady and yet still stunning enough to believably be having an affair – whether an affair with her personal bodyguard is plausible is something only Nancy and Barbara and Hillary and Laura could answer. (That day draws nearer – when the chances of the public actually being made aware of such philandering grows greater, as encouraged by Bill Clinton’s infamous faux pas, when it was discovered that indiscretions at the supposed topmost level of society warrant negligible repercussions if smeared across the trailer park consciousness of the Jerry Springer rabble.)
Kiefer Sutherland is government agent Breckinridge, a by-the-book hardcase whose job is to investigate all presidential death threats.
Eva Longoria is Jill, Breckinridge’s new assistant, though her presence is entirely questionable: counter intuitively selected by Breckinridge (over more experienced agents) to assist in a Presidential assassination attempt combined with treason, her inexperience is never exploited; neither does her character perform anything plot-worthy; no attempt at a matchmaking subplot with Breckinridge is hatched, and she is provided zero character development. It is more than obvious that Longoria’s hardworking agent scored her this role as the much-needed T&A in this otherwise male-dominated political thriller. And even that element provides us with about as much inappropriate prurience as prime time commercial television – that is, zero. A veteran of TV’s DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, narcissistic airhead Longoria recently touted that she is actively seeking roles other than Aniston-cutesy vehicles, but upon viewing her vapid performance in just such a role, it would behoove her to keep her mouth shut and her legs open if she ever hopes to secure career longevity.
THE SENTINEL plot is interesting to a point, although, after 9-11, there are certain constraints that would impede a plot regarding assassinating an American President – to wit: it won’t happen. Not in an American film, at least. Though the film tries hard to conjure a suspension of disbelief that might entertain a denouement where the assassins triumph, America (read as the entertainment industry, the MPAA, distributors, advertisers and the public), in a fit of Big Brotherly wisdom, would more than likely nullify media that would wax so courageous. Unless, of course, the President was portrayed as wicked beyond human nature, encroaching on bestial evil, characteristic of criminal psychotics and mass murderers of young boys – but Nixon is dead and Dubya is on vacation (as usual) – so the role went instead to benign talking head, David Rasche.
Thus, focus is shifted from the Presidential assassination to the hunt for the mole within the Secret Service who is ostensibly helming the assassination attempt, for which Garrison becomes the framed scapegoat. Breckenridge is all over Garrison like a TV Detective Gone Wild – doubly – as he also suspects Garrison of having an affair with his wife (after all, it is Michael Douglas).
The movie would have played as more suspenseful if the audience was not in on Garrison’s innocence. Maybe Douglas’s star power was in part to blame, but we are never in doubt of his veracity when he pleads innocence as the mole (even though he has a grand Hollywood Motive – knocking off the husband of his adulterous lover); neither do we doubt his fidelity – even though we know he is adulterously dry-humping the First Lady at every opportunity right under the Secret Service’s nose!
Garrison’s affair with Sarah is his Get Out Of Jail Free card, for when Breckenridge turns the Secret Service against Garrison with his pep talk, it is only Sarah’s high office that can pull Garrison’s bacon out of Breckinridge’s fire.
When the actual mole is discovered, it is quite anticlimactic, and the movie grapples for footing with passé action sequence piled upon passé action sequence, to pad the film to its pap conclusion.