The Sentinel Movie Review
The Sentinel is one of those movies made for commercials and trailers full of shots of well-dressed Secret Service agents running and impassioned scenes where actors bark out lines like, "He's looking for an ally and the First Lady is a fine one to have." Rarely do these movies translate well into a longer format, and The Sentinel is far from the exception.
Directed by Clark Johnson (he of the awful S.W.A.T.), The Sentinel stars Michael Douglas and Kiefer Sutherland as former friends forced to become allies after a plot reveals an unknown mole inside the Secret Service. Pete Garrison (Douglas) is a veteran agent drawn deeper into the plot after his affair with the President's wife (Kim Basinger, playing the curviest First Lady ever) is revealed, leading investigator David Breckinridge (Sutherland) to turn his attentions to Garrison. Meanwhile, TV's babe of the moment Eva Longoria co-stars as Breckinridge's sexy new partner and Garrison's protégé.
You would think the Longoria character would have had mixed feelings of being in the middle of a bitter feud. You never know. Johnson and screenwriter George Nolfi don't give her any thing to do, except handling the leering advances of her co-workers. Since Douglas and Sutherland are both on autopilot -- the former is in his stoic, manly role; the latter with his Jack Bauer intensity -- the movie trudges along until Garrison goes on the lam to prove his innocence and to save the President. That's a 40-minute wait before the movie begins to move.
The Sentinel's sleepy rhythm persists: The actors act important and alarmed, conducting investigations and taking polygraph tests, and then something blows up or someone fires a gun. The characters' background (especially Longoria), the motives of the mole's terrorist sponsors, and even the relationship between Garrison and the First Lady -- all ripe with dramatic possibilities -- remain unexplored. Ditto how Garrison gets framed, which is kind of important to the movie. For Johnson and writer George Nolfi, you don't get brains with the bloodshed. When they finally reveal the mole's identity, it's not so much a surprise as an obligation fulfilled. You're surprised not because of who it is, but because after 90 minutes you have no idea who the hell he/she is.
That's the other thing. I don't know if I'm altogether comfortable with a movie of so little consequence using international terrorists to threaten the President of the United States. In shuffling these thugs into the proceedings, Johnson and Nolfi (adapting from Gerald Petievich's novel) make no reference to 9/11, no reference to the underlying unease many Americans feel on a daily basis. For that to happen, The Sentinel would need a script that goes beyond a backyard game of war, offers fully formed characters, and has an understanding of what the nation's reaction would be if such a plot actually occurred. But, you know, you can't fit all that stuff into the trailer.