If you’re like me, you saw the terrific previews for The Sentinel and waited eagerly for an intelligent, artery-thumping thriller. I’m sorry once again to be the bearer of bad news but, folks, we’ve been hoodwinked again.
The first couple minutes of the movie are fascinating, revealing the split-second sharpness and hyper-vigilant skills the Secret Service deploys every day to protect the president and his family. It’s heartening to know that the protected are in the hands of men and women who take pride in their work. Alas, there are always a few rotten apples in any barrel …
The movie has a grabber of a tag line: “In 141 years of its history, there’s never been a traitor in the Secret Service — until now.” The word “traitor” in a movie tells you everything you can expect: a rotten, duplicitous betrayer; a hero who’ll stop at nothing to weed out the bad guy; shadowy stairwells and rain-slicked alleyways; and of course, the requisite life-or-death struggle at the end. It’s fantastic cinema — when all those thriller elements get played to the hilt. Alas, The Sentinel is diluted by a muddle of defects — a plot full of holes, cardboard characters, lackluster performances and a general malaise of “Who cares, anyway?” — any one of which would ruin a less ambitious project.
Pete Garrison (Michael Douglas, The In-Laws) is a veteran Secret Service agent who was wounded in the attack on President Reagan and should have already been retired. Instead, he’s holding down a valued agency cubicle and is in charge of a plum assignment — the guard detail on the First Lady, Sarah Ballentine (Kim Basinger, The Door in the Floor.)
Mrs. Ballentine is a nice lady, but she’s gone and let herself get smooched by Agent Garrison, and he claims he’s madly in love with her. Even though he’s sworn to risk his life to protect the president, Garrison has so little integrity that he can’t wait until his boss is out of office to bed his wife. The two middle-aged lovers risk bringing down the government by committing adultery upstairs while the rest of the Secret Service team eats dinner below them (you can tell how sympathetic I am to Agent Garrison and the mess he’s made for himself). Somebody else isn’t thrilled, either, because blackmail photos arrive and Garrison becomes one stressed-out, kiss-your-pension-goodbye flight risk.
Meantime, suspicions rise that there is a plot to kill the president, planned by a mole within the Secret Service. When Garrison can’t pass a polygraph because he won’t reveal the affair, he becomes the prime suspect. Garrison’s no-nonsense protege, David Breckinridge (Kiefer Sutherland, TV’s 24), pursues him with relentless, personal vengeance. Accompanying Breckinridge is rookie Jill Marin (Eva Longoria, TV’s Desperate Housewives), who doesn’t really do much of anything.
Eventually the bad guys are revealed, but it’s too little, too late. In any story, especially in a high-stakes thriller, a hero is only as good as the villain is bad — that’s Basic Movie Storytelling 101. Director Clark Johnson (S.W.A.T.) knows how to handle the action stuff all right, meaning he’s great on the icing part. Let’s hope he learns in his next film what the real cake of a movie is — story, story, story. Rated PG-13 for some intense action violence and a scene of sensuality.
– reviewed by Marcianne Miller