Funny, how any one episode of the FOX television drama, "24," is at least three times as cinematic, and countless times over more intelligent, as the whole of "The Sentinel." Directed with style-free tedium by Clark Johnson (2003's "S.W.A.T.
"), here is a political-set thriller that has no use for politics or thrills in its crusty story of a plot to assassinate the U.S. President. So undistinguished in its plot construction and so ineffectively dry in its character development that the film evaporates from the viewer's memory the second each scene ends, "The Sentinel" plays like the worst episode of "Law & Order" or "The West Wing" you never saw. There is the urge to say that it belongs on the small screen, but that would be a gross disservice to all the quality dramatic television programming out there.
Michael Douglas (2003's "It Runs in the Family
"), looking amazingly healthy and virile for a man now in his sixties, stars as Pete Garrison, a veteran Secret Service agent working for President Ballentine (David Rasche) and secretly having an affair with First Lady Sarah (Kim Basinger). When a conspiracy to assassinate the President is discovered and it is suspected that the culprit is working on the inside, Pete's failure of a lie detector test places him as the number one suspect. Enter Agent David Breckinridge (Kiefer Sutherland) and rookie Jill Marin (Eva Longoria), both with decidedly different ties and relationships to Pete, who are assigned to bring him in. Knowing he is really innocent, Pete must now evade the authorities as he sets out to uncover the truth and clear his name.
Based on the novel by Gerald Petievich and adapted as if it were a first-draft outline rather than an actual screenplay by George Nolfi (2004's "Ocean's Twelve
"), "The Sentinel" goes wrong on so many levels that it's hard to believe name talent and a major studio signed on in the first place. Michael Douglas, sliding with ease back into the sort of suave, troubled role he used to play so well back in his "Basic Instinct" days, is the one saving grace in a film where every other character is transparent in their one-dimensionality and every plot development is broached with the subtlety of a chainsaw cutting into a metal gate. Moving at a pace that is either really slow or just seems that way because what is onscreen is wholeheartedly uninteresting, "The Sentinel" depends on riling up suspense for a group of vague movie constructs posing as human beings. Because the viewer never gets to know them on any substantial level, and because fellow lead actors Kiefer Sutherland (2003's "Phone Booth
") and Eva Longoria (TV's "Desperate Housewives") haphazardly clang into the rest of the story elements rather than intermix with them, the movie ends up just lying there like a fish and occasionally flapping for breath.
The central mystery of "The Sentinel" is the identity of either the assassin, or the person in cahoots with him who might very well be working for the President. When said identity is revealed, it results in a resounding shrug, culminating in an even bigger shrug when his or her spouse and children, who are never seen save for in a photograph, are threatened. If that is director Clark Johnson's idea of adequately raising the stakes, he's got a misguided idea of what constitutes genuine tension in a thriller. As for Pete's passionate feelings for Sarah, their relationship is used as a cheap plot devicehe fails his lie detector test because of dodging a question involving herand then placed on a backburner where it eventually fizzles out.
As the unhappy First Lady Sarah Ballentine, Kim Basinger (2004's "Cellular
") is wasteda shame, because she and Michael Douglas share a fairly erotic, albeit PG-13-rated, sexual encounter that is more titillating than anything found in the recent R-rated bomb, "Basic Instinct 2
." As Secret Service Agent David Breckinridge, who holds a grudge with Pete that shall go unmentioned, Kiefer Sutherland delivers the most boring performance of his career. It doesn't help that his alter ego of Jack Bauer helped to stop a presidential assassination on the first season of "24," and the results were infinitely more electrifying and provocative. Sutherland is so oddly lacking in charisma that he barely seems to even be on the screen. The same might be said about Eva Longoria, an entertaining firecracker on "Desperate Housewives" whose inauspicious turn here as Jill Marin should probably be blamed on the non-character she has to play. Next to nothing is learned about Jill through the course of the film, and she apparently has no life or interests outside of her new job.
With characters zipping hilariously from one location in D.C. to the other side of town in a matter of seconds, and in another scene, from D.C. to Toronto without so much as a transition interlocking the two places, "The Sentinel" can't even get its continuity and geography right. The film has direct-to-video written all over it, and the casting of some A-list performers only acts to boggle the mind. No onenot consummate professional Michael Douglas, not Kiefer Sutherland, not Eva Longoria, not director Clark Johnsonseems to be doing anything but either cashing a paycheck or fulfilling some sort of lost bet. It's as if they all happened to be visiting the D.C. area one weekend and decided to film a movie while they were there.