-MONTHLY VHS & DVD REVIEW-
Clark Johnson directs Michael Douglas to a new career low, while the 60-year-old action
man quietly plots the best way to void his contract, without losing face, and still
claim his paycheque.
cast: Michael Douglas, Kiefer Sutherland, Kim Basinger, Eva Longoria, and Martin Donovan
director: Clark Johnson
103 minutes (15) 2006
widescreen ratio 2.40:1
20th Century Fox DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Christopher Geary
While unknown assassins target the US President, the top guy in a Secret Service team
assigned to protect America's leader is suspected of treason...
Isn't it ever the wonder of Hollywood that even wannabe controversial blockbusters can
have their plots summarised, so effortlessly, in less than 25 words?
Also interesting is the fact that we can frame a rhetorical but nonetheless critically
stinging question that gets to the very heart of everything that's wrong with mainstream
US 'action cinema' today in just as few words.
Not to be confused with the 1990s' TV show about a detective with ESP, or Michael Winner's
1977 horror flick, of the same title, The Sentinel stars Michael Douglas as a veteran
Secret Service agent. Oddly, though, Douglas was more convincing playing the US commander-in-chief
ten years ago in Rob Reiner's rom-com drama, The American President (1995). I wondered
if the actor felt he'd been demoted from Oval Office 'boss' to merely playing his glorified
bodyguard. Kiefer Sutherland turns in a greater action man performance as Jack Bauer in popular
television show 24 than he manages here in The Sentinel. And, furthermore, Eva
Longoria's looks (which include a shapely bottom) are showcased to better effect in television's
mystery soap Desperate Housewives, while Kim Basinger has also seen more glamorous days, and
better roles in meatier scripts certainly; but here, at least, she makes the most of a rare
chance to play an adulterous First Lady, even though her scandal-free affair is just a subplot,
which runs interference - conveniently advantageous to the actual villain of the piece - for the
principal threat against White House security.
The scenario's revelations about the President's wife, and Secret Service agent Pete Garrison
(Douglas), and the case of mistaken identity that allows the real villain to frame Garrison for
treason, are dragged out with such agonisingly premeditated slowness that, to viewers familiar
with the essential tropes of film noir, the process might well feel like 100 painful minutes
of amateur dental surgery. The casting here of David Rache (still best known for his comedy role
as the 'heroic' buffoon of cult TV cop show,
Sledge Hammer) as
trustworthy President Ballentine, fails miserably to capitalise on the actor's finely honed skills
at playing straight-faced farce. But, then again, there's nothing particularly farcical (except in the
sleazy US tabloid sense, of course), about the President's marital situation in The Sentinel.
Sadly, nothing is made of the satirical possibilities for scrutinising the tragically paranoid mindset
of officials in Homeland Security, either. When the final tally is over, this is a film that
takes itself too seriously. David Breckenridge (Sutherland), the federal agent placed in charge
of hunting down suspected renegade Garrison, has one laughable scene where he plays crime-scene
Sherlock, in the manner of weirdly omniscient super-detective Adrian Monk (winningly portrayed
in the hit TV series,
by Tony Shalhoub, with a maximum quota of OCD and phobic quirks), but it's a moment that's
curiously out-of-place here, largely because Sutherland's hard-nosed, yet oh-so sympathetic,
character never acts especially smart, or closely attentive, in the rest of the film.
For a far superior movie covering similar 'presidential protection' themes, go and take a
second look at Wolfgang Petersen's In The Line Of Fire (1993), a worthwhile Clint
Eastwood vehicle offering more fascinating moral intrigues and clearly far better written
characters, than are featured anywhere in The Sentinel. It's hardly a valid argument,
in favour of this film's downmarket appeal, to suggest that The Sentinel does not
warrant any serious or hard criticism simply because it obviously harbours few aspirations
to be even vaguely 'thought-provoking' (like Jonathan Demme's commendable remake of
Manchurian Candidate), or astutely 'controversial' (in the manner of classic 1970s'
suspense thriller The Parallax View), and that The Sentinel is in fact simply
a case of yet another second-rate Hollywood filmmaker settling for what he get away with in
terms of straightforward action scenes and banal twists in a no-brainer plot.
Whatever can be said about The Sentinel's cast, the most likely cause of this movie's
numerous failings is actor turned director Clark Johnson, previously guilty of doing such a
thorough job of bungling 2003's
(a big screen version of the 1970s' TV series). It's quite possible that Johnson was drawn
to this project after making 2004's The Secret Service, a 60-minute pilot for a TV
series that wasn't developed any further. The central female character of that, Laura Kelly
(played by Sarah Jane Callies, who went on to play the doctor in Prison Break), is
found reflected in the personal and professional concerns of rookie agent Jill Marin (Longoria)
in The Sentinel. It also seems likely that The Sentinel's screenwriter George Nolfi
(sci-fi clunker Timeline;
caper sequel Ocean's 12) had easy access to a source of better quality material than
appears in this shallow film, because Nolfi's script was adapted from a 2003 novel by Gerald
Petievich, a real-life US Secret Service agent who retired 20 years ago to become a novelist,
and also wrote the original book, To Live And Die In L.A. - so brilliantly filmed by
William Friedkin, back in 1985. All this suggests The Sentinel could have been a truly
engaging prospect if its makers had bothered to look beyond their studio product's wholly
unimaginative premise, and aimed a little bit higher, instead of thinking this movie's batch of
recycled clichés would suffice.
Once upon a time, new American directors were middle-class intellectual upstarts eager to
exploit their familial or industry connections, or angry young lefties with media savvy breaking
out of television hell. Nowadays, all we get is a conveyor-belt long queue of dependable Hollywood
factory 'nice guys' with patience to spare but lacking creative audacity, or blandly inarticulate
'company men' blithely exploiting the gullibility of teenagers or easily-pleased family audiences.
Since the promising US careers of action movie directors as varied as Kathryn Bigelow, John Woo, and Luc
Besson were cruelly sabotaged or unfortunately sanitised by Hollywood's ruthlessly systematic erosion of
genuine creativity and experimentation, where now can fans of fast-mover films look for genre auteurs?
The DVD has optional Dolby digital 5.1 sound and English subtitles. Disc extras include the
lamentably routine commentary track (fast becoming a contractual obligation for filmmakers, and
too-frequently an occupational hazard for DVD reviewers!) by Clark Johnson and George Nolfi,
deleted scenes, and a couple of regrettably typical behind-the-scenes featurettes.