Shiny Shelf

The Sentinel

By Stephen Lavington on 08 September 2006

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

For any rabid ‘24′ fan the past few months have been a cruel drought of politically convoluted techno-thrillers. This means that any film or TV show that has the slightest hint of geekily macho cliché (long shots of the White House, stern-looking men in suits and dark glasses, Kiefer Sutherland) will be snapped up by us without a second thought.

‘The Sentinel’ is a film of two steps forward and about twenty thousand steps back in which a promisingly conspiratorial first act descends into an insultingly messy and hole-ridden plot driven by the laughable conceit that world’s oldest man, Michael Douglas, is both an irresistible sex god and the President’s top secret service agent.

Indeed, the most obvious comparison to draw is with ‘In the Line of Fire’, clearly an inspiration here both in the age of the lead and the general plot line – an assassination attempt on the President. However, the twist here is that the conspiracy involves one of the President’s own Secret Service detail. Though scarcely a novely, the idea was also alluded to in ‘Air Force One’, it’s an idea with some potential. Sadly ‘The Sentinel’ is not the film to realise this potential.

Our protagonist is Pete Garrison (Michael Douglas) a veteran agent who has failed to advance in rank because (sigh) he bends the rules. In this case ‘bending the rules’ means conducting an affair with the first lady (Kim Basinger), an act that indirectly makes him prime suspect as the Secret Service man gone bad. He his hunted by former best friend David Breckinridge (Kiefer Sutherland) and rookie Jill Marin (Eva Longoria) as he attempts to discover the true would-be assassins.

The problem is two-fold. Firstly someone needs to sit down with Michael Douglas and carefully explain that the days of ‘Basic Instinct’, ‘Fatal Attraction’ and (shudder) ‘Disclosure’ are over. He is not a convincing romantic lead any more. The scenes in which he grapples with Basinger are clunky and awkward – it looks as though she’s struggling to remove his girdle. Even worse, a key motivation of Breckinridge is that he suspects Garrison of sleeping with his wife – Douglas, for the record, is old enough to be Sutherland’s father. Furthermore Douglas is not a convincing action lead. Clint Eastwood managed it, Bruce Willis can manage it, Douglas lacks edge. He’s good as a flabby bureaucrat in ‘Traffic’ or a washed-up novelist in ‘Wonder Boys’ but terrible as a top secret agent.

He’s not helped by a staggeringly inept plot. There are major holes, which could be excused if this was a balls-to-the wall action adventure, but as a political thriller they wreck the whole experience. The revelation of the real mole is limply executed and disappointing, making little sense within the context of the movie. The villains are off-the shelf generic baddies (though through an accident of casting the two main thugs look like ugly clones of David Baddiel and Simon Pegg which caused some initial consternation) and their goals unclear. A conspiracy needs some sort of devilish objective – even Willem Dafoe’s baddie in ‘XXX2: State of the Union’ had a masterplan. In this case there’s nothing.

Redeeming qualities? Well, it’s a pretty subjective opinion, but Sutherland is running at 85% Bauer capacity, which goes someway to filling the time before ‘24′ season six starts. However, even this is hindered by him being paired with Longoria. This is not her fault, rather the film takes a nastily lascivious attitude to her – the camera frequently switches to point of view shots of various supporting characters leering at her short skirt and tight blouse. Given the utter superfluity of her character, this is both pretty unpleasant and clearly gratuitous.

So black marks all round, and another dud joins the ranks of the inadequate conspiracy “thriller”- ‘Shadow Conspiracy’, ‘The Interpreter’, ‘Murder at 1600′, ‘Absolute Power’, say hello to ‘The Sentinel’. I think you’re all going to be friends.

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By Stephen Lavington


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