The Sentinel (review)

Kiefer Badness

know what might have saved this movie?
a Kief-and-Mike smooch right about here

I dunno: Kiefer Sutherland, he’s awfully cute and all, but why would anyone pay 10 bucks to see him do what you can see him do for free every week on TV? Actually, that’s not even fair to 24, and I say this as a nonfan of the show, of which entirely too many of the few episodes I’ve seen have ended with that hour’s worth of action turning out to have nothing to do with whatever the hell the day’s horrendous threat is supposed to be. You know, with someone going, “Oh, it doesn’t matter anyway, all the running around and shouting we’ve all been doing for the last 59 minutes, but honestly, next hour, it’s all gonna be vital to saving the country.”

The Sentinel isn’t even that interesting. And Sutherland’s (The Wild, Taking Lives) Secret Service agent David Breckinridge is no Jack Bauer, though he probably watches 24 and wishes he was that conflicted and angst-ridden and, you know, not-boring. I’d been wondering, since I saw The Sentinel a few days ago, why Sutherland would take the opportunity of a break from the logistical rigors and creative limits of playing the same character week after week on a TV series and squander it on a role so similar to the one he presumably would like a change of pace from. But it just occurred to me that perhaps he just wanted to relax and do a sorta low-key, phoned-in version of Jack. It must be exhausting having to be so on edge and angry week in and week out, and maybe creative challenges aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
So he said, Sure, he’d be the by-the-book law enforcement guy in the bit of pro forma bit of Hollywood “thriller” that is The Sentinel, but, please, let’s keep the thrills to a minimum. And so it’s all director Clark Johnson’s (S.W.A.T.) “exhilarating” helicopter shots of the monuments and the Mall — we’re in Washington, D.C., city of intrigue and cheap suits — and the security porn of mirrorshades and big black cars, earpieces and grainy surveillance photos… Except it’s porn that doesn’t think it’s porn, thinks it’s more somber than that, and so it leaves out all the exciting porno stuff, leaving us with, basically, a lot of running around, a few halfhearted gun battles, some seriously underdefined and not-at-all-fun bad guys, one laughable plot twist played with a straight face, and one coulda-been-awesome red herring completely ignored in spite of all the thriller-porn possibilities it coulda brung.

What’s happening, see, is that there’s a mole in the Secret Service, something that’s never happened in a hundred-and-whatever years of the force, as the movie constantly reminds us, perhaps so that we won’t mistake this movie with the (far superior) 1993 Secret Service flick In the Line of Fire, in which the bad guy who’s trying to kill the president is a rogue CIA agent, not a rogue Secret Service agent.

It’s not that The Sentinel is actively awful — it’s just kinda there in a bland, nonthreatening way, like how Eva Longoria as the rookie Secret Service agent wants to be all “Hollywood hot chick trying to prove she’s got brains too by starring in a ‘smart’ movie” and ends up as merely Hispanic Barbie. Not that you can blame Longoria for that — she just has nothing to do in George Nolfi’s (Ocean’s Twelve, Timeline) script, based on a novel by Gerald Petievich, except stand around looking mad that she’s pretty (and hence constantly hit on by her jerk coworkers) and getting partnered with the reluctant Breckinridge so he can make pro forma noises about her rookiness before giving in and letting her tag along so she can get to be in the movie.

And I haven’t even mentioned Michael Douglas’s (Don’t Say a Word) veteran agent Pete Garrison. Is he the rogue agent? Or is he being framed? Perhaps by Breckinridge, with whom he has some sort of beef that goes unidentified for too long, and when it is identified, makes little sense? Naw, that’d be too exciting. Or would it?

It’s hard to see how things could have been livened up here, unless it turned out that the “President Ballentine” who is in danger of being assassination had really been crazy cop Sledge Hammer all along, having gone undercover in an attempt to ferret out the mole on his protection detail. The president is played by David Rasche (Just Married, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood), after all, and maybe he’s getting tired of hearing “It’s Hammer time!” every time he meets a fan, but even he’s gotta be bored with all the dreary crap he’s had to put himself through lately just to pay the bills.

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