Sentry Duty

Michael Douglas leads the line in The Sentinel; a dull, formulaic political thriller that gives the surgically-elevated grandfather another opportunity to race around in a dark suit, shouting important-sounding things into his cuffs and shooting off guns. He plays Secret Service agent Pete Garrison, who in 1981 took a bullet during the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan and is still guarding current President Ballentine (David Rasche) 25 years later. Garrision’s duties also include tending to the First Lady Sarah (Kim Basinger), with whom he is having an unlikely but passionate affair, under the noses of the crack security team and the world’s press.

After a West Wing-like introduction to the complicated White House security systems, Garrison’s best friend on the service is assassinated on his doorstep, just after telling the grizzled old G-man that he had an urgent message for him. It appears, from Garrison’s scant investigations that a foreign faction, led by sneering, pint-drinking ‘terrorist’ The Handler (Richie Costa) is planning to kill the president. According to a different, half-cracked, informant, there’s a double agent mole in the Secret Service and after failing a polygraph test in order to protect his high-profile lover, suspicions fall on Garrison and he flees. Chasing him down is his former protégée David Breckinridge (Kiefer Sutherland), who believes Garrison had an affair with his ex-wife, and his new sidekick Jill (Eva Longoria).

Without going much further into the plot, torturously delivered and really not worth relating, Garrison must try to stay free long enough to clear his name and foil the assassination attempt while convincing his friends on the service that he remains loyal and salvage his under-pressure relationship with the stiff First Lady, who has gone from 9 ½ Weeks to 9 ½ Seconds. That the ‘mole’ is immediately obvious from the first time we are introduced to him is the least of the half-hearted film’s myriad problems, a thriller without the thrills and a conspiracy without a secret. Douglas, literally a man who shoots first and asks questions later, looks exhausted for the duration. The scenes he shares with Sutherland descend into toe-to-toe shouting matches, with more than a few unintentionally hilarious lines roared across the six inches that separate their noses. Longoria pouts and jiggles in the background. The last half hour continues the irreversible decline, with the final scenes at a G8 summit in Toronto (whose membership includes, bizarrely, Iceland) playing more like a spoof of this kind of paranoid political thriller, In The Line Of Fire chiefly, than a straight-told tale. When it came to scripting The Sentinel, from an airport novel by Gerald Petievich, someone fell asleep on their watch.

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