Don’t be fooled by plotting and marketing of The Sentinel as an AARP adaptation of the great TV show 24. Kiefer Sutherland stars in both, but Michael Douglas is the running man here.
There are more thrills, standoffs and unbearably tense moments in one episode than in this boring, obvious, poorly acted mystery that 24’s Jack Bauer could crack in, at most, a half-hour.
Complain about the convolution of Sutherland’s show, but George Nolfi’s simple screenplay (from Gerald Petievich’s novel) about a mole in the Secret Service would get laughed off at its writers’ meetings. Anyone who’s ever caught a conspicuously sideways glance will guess the villain.
The Sentinel also reduces Sutherland — so good at barking-dog conflicts, hair-trigger rage and conflicted expressions — to a humorless bureaucrat partnered with Eva Longoria and aping Tommy Lee Jones’ Fugitive speech.
Meanwhile, Longoria is ogled and trails off every monologue with a confused glance that says, “Was that OK?,” Oscar-winner Kim Basinger again succeeds at reducing the cache of the phrase “Oscar-winner” and Douglas lazily marks time as he has since Traffic and Wonder Boys.
His Pete Garrison is a Secret Service veteran who saved Ronald Reagan, but whose rule-bending ways have kept him on regular patrol. It’s a pretty big no-no, then, that he’s seeing First Lady Sarah Ballentine (Basinger) on the sly. Not only have we seen a marginalized, dissatisfied First Lady wooing a Secret Service agent on a certain TV show before, but every other Michael Douglas Thriller is required, perhaps by law, to cast him in an ill-advised affair that lands him in trouble.
No boiled bunnies here, just a burnt-black plot about a Secret Service mole facilitating a presidential assassination. (One agent is offed for what he knows. Ding! Hey, 24 is done! Again!) What better agent to frame than one doing naughty nuzzling? Two of Pete’s protégés — David Breckinridge (Sutherland) and his green partner Jill Marin (Longoria) — are tasked to the case.
As fabricated evidence stacks against Pete, he goes on the lam in an attempt to uncover the truth. Will Pete unravel everything in time? Will David quash a personal beef with Pete that ruined their friendship? Will Eva Longoria learn the hard way fieldwork in high heels isn’t a good idea? No points for guessing which question isn’t so much as addressed. The classy and collected In the Line of Fire has nothing to worry about — it remains the gold standard for a Secret Service thriller.
Johnson served a similar sort of overcooked ham in his feature-film debut S.W.A.T., but that was, after all, a film where an airplane landed on a highway. (An exploding helicopter here packs no punch at all.) What little tension there is never simmers. Instead, Johnson overloads on snippets of angry dialogue and threatening notes superimposed Se7en-style over the action.
With his calcified Cary Grant looks, Douglas should be carrying the torch for elder leading men. But similar to Harrison Ford’s Firewall, his latest can’t hold a candle to all he’s done before. At least The Sentinel shows us something we’ve never seen 24’s hero do before — sleeping. Turns out that it’s a pretty good indicator of the excitement and urgency in this snoozer.