There are a lot of things missing from Clark Johnson’s intriguing but terribly flawed “The Sentinel”, but the most problematic one is the question of why the assassins were trying to off the President of the United States (played by no other than the Sledge Hammer himself) in the first place. Then again, not that it really matters, as the point of “The Sentinel” seems to be getting to the slam-bang action climax rather than supplying any sort of reasoning behind the events that led up to it. But perhaps I missed the reason behind the attempted assassination, and although a second viewing could possibly clear up some confusion, the film is just not that good to convince me to take in a second viewing.
“The Sentinel” stars aging movie star Michael Douglas as aging Secret Service agent Pete Garrison, one of the teeming mass of black-suited men (and women) that shadows the President’s every move. After a plot to kill POTUS comes to light, Garrison is put in precarious circumstances, helped in no small part by an ongoing affair with the First Lady (Kim Basinger). As he seeks to uncover more details of the impending assassination, Garrison’s indiscretions come home to roost, and he’s quickly framed as one of the conspirators. Forced to go on the run in order to clear his name, Garrison’s problems worsen when David Breckinridge (Kiefer Sutherland), the Secret Service agent he personally trained (not to mention a former friend with whom he has had a falling out) is assigned to track his mentor.
Suffering woefully from a convoluted plot that gets less and less intelligent as the running time ticks away, “The Sentinel” is best viewed in spurts. The film’s best segments are its middle, as Garrison eludes his Secret Service comrades after being framed. The shoot’em-up finale is easily the film’s most action-packed sequence, literally closing out the movie in fine, slam-bang style. Alas, the script by George Nolfi (based on the novel by Gerald Petievich, a former Secret Service man who also wrote the novel “To Live and die in L.A.”, which was turned into the ’80s movie of the same name) is, to be kind, kicks the ass out of common sense and simply refuses to take names.
The film’s story is everywhere, with enough plot holes, inconsistencies, and underdeveloped subplots running all over the place, introduced and dropped later without any consideration for the non-ADD afflicted viewer in the audience. It’s these illogical plot threads and unresolved issues that create such a tremendous problem with endorsing “The Sentinel”. There is much to enjoy about the film, including the first 30 or so minutes, which are filled with an insider’s look (rather real or false, although they feel remarkably real) at the guarding of the most powerful man on Earth. The details seem entirely authentic, right down to the code names given to the President and his First Lady. (Speaking of which, one of those unresolved subplots is the estranged nature of the President and his wife.) And who knew there was a secret, all-powerful word that, when spoken, grants you almost Godlike powers among the Secret Service agents?
Advertising campaigns for the film have been indulging in a little sleight of hand, with Kiefer Sutherland touted as being the film’s star, when it is actually Michael Douglas who gets the top marquee spot. But of course the approach by the marketing people is obvious and understandable, considering that “The Sentinel” was originally released in theaters at about the time of “24’s” Season 5 run on TV. (“24” being the immensely popular action-adventure show starring Kiefer Sutherland, as a badass secret agent who kills first and barely takes any names later, if you didn’t already know.)
It’s been said that “The Sentinel” sometimes feels like an extended episode of “24”, except with Douglas standing in for Sutherland, and in truth there is some merit to this. Consider the middle sequence with Garrison in the wind, as the aging Secret Service agent uses up all the tricks at his disposal to get around his former colleagues. Watching Garrison turn a Blackberry cellphone into the world’s most useful spy tool will undoubtedly bring grins to “24” fans, as Jack Bauer has been known to employ his all-purpose PDA to similar effect. I swear Bauer can jerry rig a bomb with that PDA as easily as McGyver can do likewise to the same bomb with a gum wrapper and rubberband.
As expected, Clark Johnson’s experiences working on a large ensemble cast like TV’s shamefully ignored, but brilliantly executed “Homicide” comes into play. The film’s main storyline — Garrison being framed and hunted by his own people — doesn’t even surface until almost the hour mark, leaving more than enough room for character development. Garrison is of course the film’s most fleshed out character, leaving Sutherland’s Breckinridge with a lot of room for improvement. Eva Longoria handles a gun well enough, but like Breckinridge, her character barely gets any personality beyond the “super hot rookie” that all the male agents try to hit on. Can you blame them?
“The Sentinel” is worth taking a peek if you were ever curious about how the Secret Service works, or what guarding the President entails. People have criticized the film for being boring, mainly on the basis that there isn’t very much action in the first hour. True, the action doesn’t really come to the fore until the end, but even so, the film is so fantastically paced by Johnson (at the cost of plot logic, one can almost say), that it’s hard not to enjoy the film as it’s playing. If you like a well paced thriller that boils to a crescendo, “The Sentinel” would certainly suffice as a late-night rental, or even a bargain bin DVD buy.
Clark Johnson (director) / George Nolfi (screenplay), Gerald Petievich (novel)
CAST: Michael Douglas …. Pete Garrison
Kiefer Sutherland …. David Breckinridge
Eva Longoria …. Jill Marin
Martin Donovan …. William Montrose
Ritchie Coster …. The Handler
Kim Basinger …. 1st Lady Sarah Ballentine
David Rasche …. President Ballentine
Kristin Lehman …. Cindy Breckinridge