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The Sentinel   D

20th Century Fox / Regency Enterprises

Year Released: 2006
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Clark Johnson
Writer: George Nolfi (based on the novel by Gerald Petievich)
Cast: Michael Douglas, Kiefer Sutherland, Eva Longoria, Martin Donovan, Richie Coster, Kim Basinger, Blair Brown, David Rasche.

Review by Rob Vaux

Dear Twentieth Century Fox:

You clearly have an itching to translate the success of your hit TV show 24 into cinematic form. May I suggest just picking two episodes at random, glomming them together, and calling them a movie? The results would be much more enjoyable than The Sentinel, which you assembled from spare parts in a thoroughly feckless and uninvolving manner. How hard can it be to swap it out for 24? I've got a couple of episodes on my TiVo if you need them, and I'm sure you've got some copies, you know, around. It's not too late to sneak them out to theaters in place of this mess. Trust me, no one will notice the difference.

* * *

The most distressing thing about The Sentinel is how much real talent they've assembled in front of the camera. Talent that not only makes the average moviegoer pay attention, but could normally knock technothrillers like this out of the park. Michael Douglas? Sharp and intense. Kiefer Sutherland? Snarly and fierce. Kim Basinger? Looks like a million bucks. Eva Longoria? Well... OK, three out of four isn't bad. But even with that hiccup, it's a pretty fearsome cast. There are Oscars and Golden Globes and whatnot kicking around in copious amounts. So why did they all agree to appear in such silly nonsense? Or, if silly nonsense was the order of the day, why didn't the filmmakers just hire a bunch of schlubs in need of a break and avoid embarrassing good actors with bad material?

Whatever the cause, it's obvious that nobody believed in this project longer than it took for the check to clear. An ostensible political drama in the Tom Clancy mold, its scenario is so appallingly by-the-numbers that you can actually hear the chunks of other movies banging up against each other like icebergs. Douglas plays a veteran Secret Service agent assigned to protect the first lady (Basinger), whose relationship with her husband has grown distant. His comfortable late-career position is interrupted by a gang of skeevy Eurotrash -- set on assassinating the president -- who has a mole within the Secret Service feeding them handy information. Is it Douglas? That's what his perennially scowling former student (Sutherland) thinks, triggering a massive manhunt when incriminating evidence come out, and letting our hero pull out all of his spy-guy tricks in search of the real villains.

The characters have names, but none of them are really important, since the script doesn't lend them any qualities beyond assigned stereotypical tropes. Sutherland coasts in Jack Bauer mode (though admittedly, he's really good at it), while Douglas labors to conjure the kind of wrongly-accused sympathies that worked so well for Harrison Ford in The Fugitive. Basinger is luminous, but her character serves only the most expedient of purposes. As for Longoria -- sigh -- tough-gal coppers just ain't her thing. The screenplay, unfortunately, doesn't give any of them the tools for the job, and while director Clark Johnson (a veteran of numerous TV cop shows) has shown promise in the past, his efforts here suggest nothing more than uninspired routine. The faux suspense hinges on threadbare scenarios of a thousand thrillers past -- foot chases that go nowhere, clues conjured from Clichés-R-Us, a Byzantine conspiracy that is neither plausible nor interesting -- and while the film displays a little early energy by exploring how the Secret Service works, it can't find anything unique to add to the topic.

Weak material like this inevitably draws comparisons to better films: films it emulates, but never really understands. A screening of The Sentinel will make you pine for them like nothing else. 24 is free, All the King's Men is coming soon, and both The Fugitive and In the Line of Fire are just a Netflix envelope away. Given that, The Sentinel has absolutely no reason to exist -- not without something, anything, to let it stand on its own merits. The multiplexes are too full of crap as it is, and these people clearly don't need the money; why should we compound their poor judgment by giving them ours?

Review published 04.21.2006.

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