Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Michael Douglas, Kiefer Sutherland, Eva Longoria, Martin Donovan, Kim Basinger, Blair Brown, David Rasche, Ritchie Coster, Kristin Lehman, Raynor Scheine
Written by: George Nolfi, based on a novel by Gerald Petievich
Directed by: Clark Johnson
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some intense action violence and a scene of sensuality
Running Time: 105
Date: 04/19/2006
IMDB

The Sentinel (2006)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Secret Nervous

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The mysterious infiltrating-mole plot has been done before, as well as the Secret Service movie, but The Sentinel has one thing that those other movies don't have: the world's most dangerous extramarital affair.

Career Secret Service agent Pete Garrison (Michael Douglas), who once took a bullet to save Reagan's life, actually has the stones to sleep with the First Lady. And who can blame him, when she's as poised, elegant and gorgeous as Kim Basinger?

Through a grizzled, paranoid street informer (Raynor Scheine), Pete learns about a plot to assassinate the President. But the mole uses Pete's secret to frame him and make him look like the prime suspect. To make matters worse, Pete's old pal David Breckinridge (Kiefer Sutherland), currently the chief investigator on the case, hates him.

TV hottie Eva Longoria appears, in her big Hollywood debut, with nothing to do. She plays a rookie agent to whom the other characters explain everything. She also gets to wear sleek, black suits and heels, aiming her gun, but still looking like a sweet, somewhat vacant, girl-next-door.

Based on a novel by former Secret Service agent Gerald Petievich, The Sentinel is the kind of movie that William Friedkin would have made in braver times. Indeed, Friedkin once made a remarkable film from Petievich's novel To Live and Die in L.A. He would have concentrated on the sequence in which Pete evades his colleagues using all their inside knowledge, plus his superior experience, against them. This was a director that understood how well small details and process could drive a plot.

But Sentinel director Clark Johnson (S.W.A.T.) merely turns in a serviceable, workaday thriller, no better or no worse than any other thriller you've seen lately. While he manages a reasonable amount of slick entertainment, he can't figure out how to disguise or deal with the mole character. It's too easy to solve the mystery early on, and once it's officially revealed in the final 20 minutes, the film begins coasting. Even the climactic shootouts become blocky and tired.

Likewise, Johnson avoids politics, giving us a totally average, inert U.S. President (David Rasche) who neither seems too smart, nor too dumb -- neither too charismatic nor too bland. Protesters show up in one scene, but their picket signs are obscured, and they're treated as a standard annoyance. It's moderate policy as modern filmmaking.

However, Johnson winds up his film with a stunning moment: Our two lovers part, separated by an incredibly complicated web of security and spin, and it's almost as devastating as real politics.

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