The Sentinel Review

"That was so old fashioned", I heard a fellow audience member comment as I left the cinema after seeing The Sentinel. I must be getting old because the big-star thrillers of the 1990s, which The Sentinel tries to emulate, don't seem very old fashioned to me. If you can overlook the giant mobile phones the actors carry, films like Basic Instinct, The Firm and Patriot Games haven't dated all that much, have they? 2006 has seen a mini-revival of the genre, utilising the same (now ageing) stars. Harrison Ford's family were kidnapped by high-tech thieves in Firewall, Bruce Willis protected a witness from crooked cops in 16 Blocks and now Michael Douglas plays a Secret Service agent framed as a presidential assassin.

I have mixed feelings about these films. I enjoyed all three to an extent but I wish they were better than they are because what mainstream cinema needs more than anything right now is more entertainment made for adults. The grown-up audience, starved of anything to watch at the multiplex, is rapidly disappearing in the direction of television and home cinema, thus forcing movie studios to depend even more heavily on juvenile films. Not that there shouldn't be movies for younger people but the balance is so heavily tipped towards kids at the moment that it's difficult to find anything to recommend to people my age (34) and older. It's embarrassing telling friends in their thirties that the best films out are Cars and Over The Hedge. My retired parents would love to go to the cinema more but there's nothing for them to see. It doesn't help when the few big movies that are made for older people turn out to be overhyped junk like The Da Vinci Code. But I digress. Back to The Sentinel, which at least makes a stab at redressing the balance.

Agent Pete Garrison (Michael Douglas) is a heroic veteran agent of the United States Secret Service. In 1981, he took a bullet for Ronald Reagan. Now he protects Sarah Ballentine (Kim Basinger), the wife of President Ballentine (David Rasche - yes, Sledge Hammer has been elected president!). Unknown to his fellow agents, Pete does more than protect her - they've been having an affair. Pete's old friend and colleague David Breckinridge (Kiefer Sutherland) suspects he's been sleeping with someone he shouldn't but he thinks that someone is his own wife, which has caused considerable tension between the two men.

When another agent is assassinated, two things becomes apparent: someone's plotting a serious attempt on President Ballentine's life and there's a mole in the Secret Service helping the plot. The glare of suspicion falls on all the agents working at the White House and Pete's shifty attempts to keep his affair with the First Lady a secret make him the prime suspect. Evading capture by his colleagues, he sets out to track down the real mole, prove his innocence and save the president from an assassin's bullet.

The Sentinel is a very watchable and sometimes exciting thriller, thanks in no small part to vivid, fast-paced direction by Clark Johnson, who worked on a lot of TV shows before he made his feature debut with SWAT. Although the action sequences are nothing groundbreaking, Johnson's handling of them does raise your pulse. He occasionally throws in unnecessary visual tricks and flourishes, as if to remind us that we haven't time-warped back to 1993, but for the most part this is a very well-made film. After this and SWAT, I'd like to see what he could do with a great script.

He doesn't have one here. Johnson's work makes up for many but not all of the shortcomings of the screenplay by George Nolfi (Timeline and Ocean's Twelve). Its thin characterisation and functional dialogue can be glossed over; its lack of originality cannot. Not only does The Sentinel hark back to the thrillers of the nineties, it borrows conspicuously from a couple of them. Though it's based on an original novel by former Secret Service agent Gerald Petievich, who also wrote To Live And Die In LA, the film resembles a cross between In The Line Of Fire (veteran agent investigates a plot to kill the president) and The Fugitive (innocent man framed for a crime solves it while eluding the law). The writing is unfortunately not a patch on that of either of those classics.

The stars, Michael Douglas and Kiefer Sutherland, are two of Hollywood's most dynamic actors and it's fun to watch them at loggerheads but I don't think either man is ideally cast. The 62-year-old Douglas, who's looking more and more like his father Kirk as he gets older, is difficult to accept as an active secret service bodyguard. It'd be easier to believe Kim Basinger protecting him. Sutherland by contrast looks a little too much at home in his part. He's playing a tough government agent with a painful personal life, who's trying to nail a traitor and save a president. Sound familiar? The character has so many obvious similarities to 24's Jack Bauer that his presence is a distraction. A distinguished supporting cast, headed by Kim Basinger and Eva Longoria, contributes surprisingly little.

Overall

6

out of 10

Last updated: 23/05/2018 09:09:56

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