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The Sentinel (09/06/2006)
By David Robinson

Now available on video and DVD, The Sentinel pulls just about every cinematic string to get the audience jittery, uncertain of what's coming next or who's really who. Starring Kiefer Sutherland and Michael Douglas, this not-especially-original thriller will entertain, if not enlighten.

Douglas plays veteran Secret Service agent Pete Garrison, a man somewhat haunted by his having taken a bullet intended for then-President Ronald Reagan. His former protégé, David Breckenridge (Sutherland), also suspects Garrison of having had an affair with Breckenridge's wife. The movie is not entirely clear on this, though a brief snippet seems to indicate Garrison didn't. On the other hand, he is having an affair with his current charge, the First Lady, played with a cool elegance by Kim Basinger.

The latter relationship leads to some big problems when a blackmailer threatens to reveal the affair and when Garrison flunks a lie detector test on whether he has faithfully discharged his duties. Meanwhile, a plot to assassinate the President has come to light through one of Garrison's snitches, who claims that there's a mole inside the Service itself. As its top investigator, Breckenridge is put in charge of finding the traitor. Soon, the evidence begins pointing toward Garrison. Confronted, he declares he's being framed, but he also escapes rather than turning himself in.

The rest of the film follows the two intertwined plots"the assassination attempt and Garrison's evasion of his colleagues"without ever clarifying certain matters which badly need it. At one point, the long-brewing animosity between Breckenridge and Garrison gets resolved in about ten seconds, a reversal that simply doesn't wash. Several critical deaths are never fully explained or connected. The resolution devolves into the standard chase ‘em down, shoot ‘em up, shake hands and make up ending. Only one (irresolvable?) plot element is left unresolved: music up and under.

The Sentinel also features Eva Longoria of "Desperate Housewives" fame, mostly as window dressing, since she is a rookie assigned, incredibly enough, on a crew to foil an assassination attempt. Director Clark Johnson over-employs a hand-held camera, constantly shifting its subject and focus to unsettle the audience; Christophe Beck's musical score smacks us over the head with its portentousness. The editing seems to forbid any shot lasting longer than about five seconds"including the love scene!

In short, nothing in the standard thriller formula is left untried here: the result is okay, though you'll likely start forgetting it as soon as you turn off the TV. The Sentinel is rated "PG-13" primarily for some "intense action violence." 


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