½*/**** Image B Sound A Extras C
starring Michael Douglas, Kiefer Sutherland, Eva Longoria, Kim Basinger
screenplay by George Nolfi, based on the novel by Gerald Petievich
directed by Clark Johnson
by Walter Chaw Michael Douglas in a suit gets into an affair with the wrong woman and ends up running for his life to save his career.
He's a Secret Service agent this time, Garrison, who, like Clint Eastwood's fossilized vet in In the Line of Fire, is a legend for saving Reagan from being shot twice, I guess. Like that character, too, he finds himself targeted in a plot to kill the President. The proverbial race against the clock is alas muted because our current real-life President is someone most U.S. citizens have probably fantasized about popping themselves (Shooter touches on this with a line having to do with loving the idea of the presidency, if not the corporeal manifestation); we learn that there's a traitor in the Service, and because Garrison fails a polygraph test (since he's having an affair with First Lady Sarah (Kim Basinger, typecast as mouth-breathing sex victim)), he becomes Suspect Number One in the investigation led by former best friend/protégé Agent Breckinridge (Kiefer Sutherland).
No stone is left unturned in either Breckinridge's "24"-cum-"CSI" machinations or The Sentinel's rote, piston-repetitive script. Breckinridge even gets a rookie agent and mild love interest in vavoom Agent Marin (Eva Longoria), whose primary function is to spout rote feminist ripostes to leering peers and fulfill the passing-the-baton utility in middlebrow thrillers like this. The end is never in question and the chases and gun battles are curiously antiseptic in a manufactured-for-prime-time fashion, and The Sentinel makes no compelling statements about anything en route to shedding little light on its stock characters and single high concept. The premise that there's never been a traitor in the Treasury Department's storied ranks of selfless über-yojimbo is the most gratifying thing to emerge from the film--or at least it would be had Tom Clancy not abused it almost as poorly a decade ago. If the current Wild Hogs proves anything, it proves that aging boomers enjoy watching other aging boomers doing familiar shit in three-quarter time.
I'll confess that it took me three months or so to finish watching The Sentinel and that it doesn't seem to matter where you cue it up from, it always comes out exactly the same: mesmerically-incomprehensible. All the elements are there, from ex-intimate-turned-worst-enemy to inter-generational relationships paralleled to no good effect, to rote action scenes choreographed like Tai Chi routines for the geriatric set--and none of it matters in the slightest, making the picture almost impossible to concentrate on for more than a couple of minutes at a time. The Sentinel is the longest conversation with the world's worst conversationalist: rambling, aimless, something that you've already heard a million times before and wasn't that interesting to start with. It's "Matlock" with a better tailor. The solution is solved the instant the real culprit sulks on screen and there's nothing sultry in its bedroom antics and nothing tense in its interpersonal clashes. It appears to recognize its own fatigue with the desperate insertion of meaningless interstitial montages that document a few of the threats the President receives on a daily basis. Among myriad other explanations for its ineffectiveness as a heart-thumper, because the film is about the sentinel and not the prize it's safe to say that we don't care. (Granted, when the Prez actually is directly in the line of fire, we still don't care.) The Sentinel is that rare film with absolutely no caloric value. Call it cinematic celery: It takes more energy to successfully ingest it than to turn the damned thing off and watch something else.
Fox provided us with one of those screener DVDs that reminds via pop-up icons, often and with inexplicable pride, that it's the property of 20th Century Fox. Factoring in the attendant anti-piracy encryptions that wreak havoc on these review copies, the 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer looks about as good it should. As an aside, S.W.A.T. director Clark Johnson (here saddled with the asshole who wrote the hilarious Timeline) has a background in TV procedurals like "Homicide", meaning he knows how to give a two-hour film the feel of a one-hour television episode stretched impossibly past the tedium point. The film's DD 5.1 mix makes nice, logical use of the surround channels, splitting effects evenly and, during the climactic shootout, ricocheting bullets in an echoing stairwell soundstage. The menu, it bears mentioning, functions as a trailer and a spoiler, a trend I've noticed recently and, well, I guess I should care, but I really don't. The Sentinel does offer a juicy, prime opportunity to test my theory that anything is funny with a Spanish dub, as well as that bad movies seem less so with a French dub. Go figure.
I was initially resistant to the idea of a commentary track for this empty vessel, never mind one featuring Clark and screenwriter George Nolfi--an inclination bolstered by early moments that serve as a hagiography for the Secret Service. Nevertheless, the track irons itself out as a fairly entertaining exercise. The two do minimal trainspotting, devoting a good deal of their dialogue to background and inspiration. A smartass would offer that these are surprising revelations along with the revelation that research was conducted at all. Four deleted scenes (4 mins.) and an alternate ending (3 mins.) sport as their victims a cameo by screenwriter Nolfi as a golfing buddy in addition to another boring car ride and more non-acting by Longoria. The commentary on these things, optional, expends a lot of energy establishing context and little-to-none establishing rationale for the elisions. As it appears largely arbitrary which scenes made it into the film in the first place, it's likely that any cuts were for the sake of length.
The alternate ending, written by some unmentioned other person, offers a romantic conversation between our adulterous heroes and suggests that Monica Lewinsky wasn't crazy to think she could live happily ever after with Bill under Hilary's nose. God Bless America. "The Secret Service: Building on a Tradition of Excellence" (13 mins.) recycles the footage of Reagan getting shot that opens the film before launching into a breathless, interminable blowjob for the Secret Service: there's a short history of the group; a mini-doc interview with an ex-agent that goes over the bare bones of the group's duties; and then a lot of junket humming about how brave and tireless are these men and women in protecting Presidents, et al. "In the President's Shadow" (8 mins.) is interchangeable with the previous featurette and, in fact, includes parts of the same interviews. Together they're at once a recruitment video and a circle jerk. Two trailers for The Sentinel plus spots for Thank You For Smoking, Behind Enemy Lines 2, Romancing the Stone & Jewel of the Nile, and the fourth season of "24" round out the presentation. Originally published: April 4, 2007.
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