March 27, 2006

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The Sentinel (PG-13)
reviewed by Amy Diaz

Kiefer Sutherland stays in Jack Bauer makeup to play a Secret Service agent heading up an internal investigation for a potential presidential assassin in the sleepy thriller The Sentinel.

Actually, this time it’s Michael Douglas in the experienced-agent-who-has-to-go-off-reservation, which along with some gadgetry and some blather about “the country” is very reminiscent of Sutherland’s day job on 24. But, while that show has become the regular purveyor of high-energy storytelling with plenty of snazzy explosions and overheated dialogue, The Sentinel feels more like a middling episode of CSI: Miami, with relatively conventional approaches to story, character and dialogue.

Pete Garrison (Douglas, looking every bit his nearly 62 years) is a respected member of the Secret Service who has crossed a bit of a professional line by beginning a relationship with First Lady Sarah Ballantine (Kim Basinger). Their ill-considered relationship is just the kind of protocol-breaking situation that can make a man look guilty on a polygraph. Unfortunately for Garrison, everyone in the Secret Service is ordered to take one after he gets word that someone inside the agency is helping unspecified baddies try to kill the president. Leading up the investigation of the agents is David Breckinridge (Sutherland), a former friend of Garrison’s who had a falling out with him. Breckinridge is assisted in his investigation by Jill Marin (Eva Longoria), a new Secret Service agent who, as the film frequently reminds us, is also very hot (we get several shots of her cleavage and one very long shot of her – clothed – bum).

Despite this powerful partnership between an angry Breckinridge and a hot Marin, they are having a hard time figuring out just who is after the president. Though all the evidence points to Garrison, he’s the guy with top billing and even half-formed characters like Breckinridge and Marin know that the top-billed star is seldom the secret bad guy.

Actually, much in the spirit of a CSI, once you meet all the players in this little drama, you can probably guess who the bad guy’s going to turn out to be. (Both CSI and Law & Order need to stop hiring the semi-famous guest to play the murderer of the week.) This could be OK if the journey to unmask the mole were a bit more exciting but the movie acts as though all its technical flairs have never been seen before (an electronic locator on the president, use of cell phones to track sources) when in fact TV has gone way beyond these little tricks.

The problem with The Sentinel is not that it is a bad movie but more that it isn’t a movie in any way superior to something you could see for free on TV. And, because TV is episodic and allows for greater character development and fun side plots, The Sentinel seems like thin soup beside even the relatively average episodes of the most recent season of 24. Kim Basinger is but a weak copy of Jean Smart’s nutty first lady; Douglas is a tired version of Sutherland’s own TV alter ego. Not worth space in the TiVo, The Sentinel certainly isn’t worth your $9. C-


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