The Sentinel is the equivalent of a good used car. It may lack a factory fresh smell, but it is a sturdy ride.
The scenery may look familiar, but the trip is filled with enough pit stops to make it enjoyable. Director Clark Johnson (SWAT) assuredly navigates the roadmap of a screenplay, creating sustainable characters and just enough mock suspense to keep this political thriller from veering off course.
To some, Secret Service agent Peter Garrison (Michael Douglas) is a legend; to others he is a dinosaur, a reminder of an old administration. Through his years of service, Garrison has dodged numerous bullets and even took one for President Reagan. Currently assigned to protect First Lady Sarah Ballentine (Kim Basinger), Garrison has his hands full, but finds himself in over his head after being framed for trying to assassinate the president (Davis Rasche).
Heading up the investigation is agent David Breckinridge (Kiefer Sutherland), who still blames Garrison for the breakup of his marriage. With a mole in the White House and Garrison the only suspect, Breckinridge and rookie partner Jill Marin (Eva Longoria) must race against time to reveal the truth.
While I appreciated the breakneck pace and timeliness of The Sentinel, it was difficult to distance myself from the reality that I have seen all of this before. For 24 hours every television season, Sutherland plays Counter Terrorism Unit agent Jack Bauer, constantly racing against the clock to save the world or the president from one disaster after another. With its cutting edge graphics, unique framing device and gritty realism, 24 trumps The Sentinel when it comes to character development.
Screenwriter George Nolfi (Ocean’s Twelve) packs a lot into two hours, but rarely engages us. Unlike No Way Out, which featured a major reveal at the end, The Sentinel plays by the rules, so we’re usually just passing time waiting for the characters to catch up. The actors make this waiting game more entertaining than it has any right to be, helping us leap over gaping plot holes.
Douglas looks and acts like a veteran agent, someone who has been around the block and back. There’s a world-weariness in the performance and, while it’s not much of a stretch for Douglas, he commands it with authority. Sutherland plays an extension of Bauer, a no-nonsense agent willing to do whatever it takes. His conviction is intense. Basinger fares best as a woman torn between love and duty, while Martin Donovan shades his special agent with enough doubt to catch us off guard.