The Sentinel

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Twenty years have passed since Secret Service agent Pete Garrison (Douglas) saved a President’s life. As a conspiracy unfolds within the White House, he realises he might have to do the same again — but this time there’s evidence that he’s behind the plot


With all its motorcades, sharpshooters and suits-and-shades chic, the world of the Secret Service is fertile territory for a thriller director. That must have been in the mind of S.W.A.T.’s Clark Johnson, when in 2003 he turned his attention from Kevlar-clad meatheads to the highly starched agents who guard the President.

For this tale of a veteran agent who’s framed by a White House mole and hunted by his own colleagues, Johnson assembled a cast guaranteed to get thriller fans frothing. In one corner, as framed Service-man Pete Garrison, there’s Michael Douglas, returning to the genre after five years’ absence to prove that no-one does ‘beleaguered male’ better. In the other, as the man assigned to hunt Garrison down, there’s 24’s Kiefer Sutherland, who’s so used to this stuff he probably provided his own curly ear-piece. And to balance out the testosterone, there’s Kim Basinger as the First Lady — who’s been receiving a few very secret services from Garrison — and Eva Longoria as a rookie agent.

Sadly for said thriller fans, not to mention fans of the stars, The Sentinel is a pretty weak piece of filmmaking. After a cool start in which Douglas begins an average day at his far from average office, the predictable plot kicks in, and with it a rapid slide into incoherence. Take the series of lurid death threats which flash across the screen throughout the first half of the film, either a feeble red herring or an attempt by Johnson to get his money’s worth out of the editing suite. Or, even more ridiculous, the occasion near the end in which the baddies find the President’s wife unprotected, about ten minutes after the start of their assassination attempt.

At a time when America faces real danger from genuinely scary foes, the identity of the villains, when it’s finally revealed, seems to confirm suspicions that George ‘Timeline’ Nolfi’s script spent more than a few years circling Hollywood. These are the sort of paper-thin Euro-nasties you’d find hatching schemes in early ‘90s Van Damme movies, not what you’d expect from a post-9/11 political thriller. The general lack of character development extends from them to the President — who’s represented as a good leader despite the fact he can’t tell that his own wife’s cheating on him — and Longoria’s greenhorn, who could probably be cut out of the film completely without affecting anything.

With actors this good there are some rewards. But The Sentinel is still a big disappointment, with the mouthwatering promise of a Douglas/Sutherland face-off squandered and the presence of the latter reminding you that you can get smarter, pacier action for free on TV.

More Shadow Conspiracy than In The Line Of Fire, this suffers from serious quality control issues. If you’re looking for superior suspense, buy a 24 box set instead.