Sentinel, The (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The Sentinel is a movie in which one's perception of the proceedings will be impacted by a familiarity (or lack thereof) with the TV series 24. For those for whom that number means little more than "two dozen," The Sentinel is a Michael Douglas movie. For those for whom 24 has created a weekly television appointment, this is a Kiefer Sutherland movie in which Michael Douglas shows up to steal an inordinate amount of screen time. I'm tempted to say that Desperate Housewives fans may provide a third perspective, but Eva Longoria's role here is so different from that in the weekly series that there's no sense of déjà vu. Not so for Sutherland, though, who brings more than a little of the maverick Jack Bauer to his role as by-the-book Secret Service investigator David Breckinridge. As written, there are as many dissimilarities as similarities between Sutherland's two alter-egos, but the actor bulldozes through them. Most of the time during The Sentinel, we're not so much watching Breckinridge as we are Bauer. All that's missing are a few well-placed utterances of "dammit!"

The Sentinel displays an old-fashioned sensibility, and that serves it well. It uses the old cliché of "the good man wrongly accused and forced to go on the run to prove his innocence." It's The Fugitive with higher stakes. Director Clark Johnson and screenwriter George Nolfi (adapting the novel by Gerald Petievich) do an excellent job of setting things up and getting the story underway. Unfortunately, some of their hard work is undone during the movie's final third. Questionable editing leaves out too much connective tissue and the movie begins to suffer in terms of continuity and cohesiveness. It's disconcerting to find so many gaping holes in an otherwise slick production. (I don't question the movie's credibility when it comes to how the Secret Service works. One has to buy into The Sentinel's presentation of this in order for the film to work on any level. Besides, I'm not in a position to judge when and where liberties were taken.)

President Ballentine (Sledge Hammer himself, David Rasche) is under threat of assassination, and the threat is heightened by the revelation that there's a mole in the Secret Service. David Breckinridge and his rookie partner, Jill Marin (Eva Longoria), are brought in to head up the investigation. The evidence leads to Secret Service legend Pete Garrison (Michael Douglas), who is in the unenviable position of being unable to explain some of his actions because he's covering up an affair with the First Lady, Sarah Ballentine (Kim Basinger). It doesn't help that Breckinridge and Garrison have an antagonistic history. Once the best of friends, they parted ways when Beckinridge believed his former mentor was sleeping with his wife. With all the evidence pointing to him, Garrison has to go on the run to find vindication. Breckinridge must decide whether he believes Garrison to be guilty of treason or to have been framed. And, if the latter is the case, then a would-be assassin is on the loose, plotting to kill the President.

I enjoyed the build-up more than the payoff, which feels rushed and implausible. The latter doesn't much bother me, but the former does. The Sentinel is at its best when Breckinridge and Garrison are sparring - either face-to-fact or while one chases the other. Of course, every time Breckinridge draws his weapon or barks an order, he becomes - if only for a short period of time - Jack Bauer, and that lends an odd dynamic to the proceedings that non-24 watchers will be unaware of. As for the identity of the Secret Service traitor - I won't give it away here except to say that there's not much in the way of effective misdirection. Most viewers will have figured out who the mole is before the movie is 30 minutes old. (The Law of Conservation of Characters plays into this.)

When it comes to movies about Secret Service agents protecting the President from assassination, The Sentinel finishes several lengths behind the Clint Eastwood/Wolfgang Peterson collaboration, In the Line of Fire. There's not as much tension and the characters are less compelling. There are indications that The Sentinel was intended to be a longer, more involved movie, but what we end up with is a stripped-down carcass. In addition to the aforementioned plot holes, there's a subplot involving Garrison and Breckinridge's wife (who makes only a fleeting appearance) that deserves more than the perfunctory treatment it is accorded. So, although some enjoyment can be had from watching The Sentinel with an uncritical eye, it remains a deeply flawed piece of mainstream action entertainment.

Sentinel, The (United States, 2006)

Run Time: 1:50
U.S. Release Date: 2006-04-21
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1