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THE SENTINEL , USA , 2006 , MPAA Rating : PG-13 for some intense action violence and a scene of sensuality

Not to be confused with the horror flick from the 70s, THE SENTINAL is a competent enough mystery/thriller set in the fractious world of White House protocols and security. It’s most interesting aspect, though, may be that while Michael Douglas might have been hired for the star power he could bring for a good opening weekend, it’s his second-billed co-star, Kiefer Sutherland who walks off with the film.


Douglas is Pete Garrison, career Secret Service agent who took a bullet for Reagan back in the day. Despite that, he’s never risen very high in the ranks because of his tendency to bend rules. His current assignment is protecting the comely First Lady (Kim Basinger), a job which he takes very personally, and so does she, if you get my drift. The president (David Rasche) is blissfully unaware of anything improper, having settled into a business-like, but affable, partnership with his wife. Things are going along swimmingly until, about 10 minutes in, Garrison is stopped by a fellow agent and best pal who says he wants to talk with him about something important, but not under the scrutiny of White House security cameras and such. Fans of this particular genre know the moment he says that, that his time is up. And, sure enough, he’s assassinated on his doorstep. Meanwhile, Garrison is contacted by a favorite, and suitably twitchy, snitch from his past who has explosive information about a putative plot to assassinate the president using a mole within the Secret Service.


Never mind that Garrison is the one to bring this to the attention of the Service, he’s soon suspect number one on the list of the agent assigned to crack the case, his former protégé and ex-best friend, David Breckenridge (Sutherland). There’s tension aplenty, of course, and a dollop of sex appeal with Breckenridge’s own protégé, Jill Marin (Eva Longoria), who we are told, graduated second in her class, speaks four languages, but somehow missed the class on wearing appropriate, read not skin-tight attire to work at the White House. It’s also her first day on the job and Breckenridge decides to put her on the case with him because she hasn’t been spoiled by too much field work. Make of that what you will.


Naturally, the evidence against Garrison is solid. Also, naturally he’s also being blackmailed about his relationship with the First Lady, so he can’t explain his every move to Breckenridge. The only thing left is for him to take it on the lam, the which he does with the requisite twists, turns, subterfuge, and nifty way with putting gadgets together with common household items.


This is strictly a genre film and, as such, there is a certain suspension of disbelief necessary to get over the lucky breaks that keep coming the hero’s way: An agent who looks the wrong way at just the right moment, or someone trusting Garrison who really has no reason to. Still, it’s all fairly painless and the pacing is nice, if not remarkable. And that sums the film up as a whole. It’s interesting, but not heart-stopping, and then as much for the inside look at the infrastructure supporting the First Couple as for the unfolding of the plot. It stumbles a bit when director Clark Johnson gets cutesy and tries for some arsty camera moves that play as cheesy and derivative rather than stylish.


This is a straightforward story and should be told that way. It’s neither bold, nor ambitious, but does its job in a workman-like fashion. The same can be said of the acting. In Douglas’ case, this has the virtue of sparing the audience the spectacle of his ham-handed scenery chewing that he has been known to spew. Basinger and Longoria are sophisticated and cool in ways that differ little beyond one being blonde and the other brunette. There are few demands on them beyond the former looking good in her elegantly tailored clothes, and the latter in her buttock-cupping trousers. There are fewer demands of Rasche, who plays his part without looking either like a dolt or a statesman, as does Blair Brown as one of the President’s staffers, and Martin Donovan, the Secret Service agent protecting the Prez.


The exception is Sutherland, who is essentially playing Jack Bauer from television’s 24, but with a shower and a good night’s sleep. There is the same dogged drive, the analytical mind, and the endlessly fascinating undertow of deep emotional angst that makes him instantly appealing no matter how snarky.


THE SENTINAL is a modest effort that doesn’t try to be more than that. It trudges along nicely, doesn’t overstay its welcome, and best of all, puts Kiefer back on the big screen.

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