The Sentinel (2006) / Thriller-Action

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, sensuality, and language
Running Time: 108 min.

Cast: Michael Douglas, Kiefer Sutherland, Kim Basinger, David Rasche, Eva Longoria, Blair Brown, Martin Donovan, Ritchie Coster, Raynor Scheine
Director: Clark Johnson
Screenplay: George Nolfi (based on the novel by Gerald Petievich)
Review published May 5, 2006

The Sentinel is a derivative but entertaining thriller, similar in many ways to superior films like The Fugitive and No Way Out, but manages to throw in enough of its own spin to keep you from zoning out from predictable boredom.  With Michael Douglas (The In-Laws, Traffic) at its core, at the very least, you can rest assured there will be some solid, energetic acting, while director Clark Johnson, who made one of my favorite recent fast-food action vehicles in S.W.A.T., continues to impress with another personality-driven piece that stays entertaining even when there isn't any action to hold us in rapt attention.

Douglas plays Presidential Secret Service agent Pete Garrison, a veteran and hero from previous administrations, and considered one of the top men in his field.  Unfortunately, Garrison has been a bit derelict in keeping proper protocol, as he has been having an ongoing affair with the First Lady (Basinger, Cellular), and the two have made almost every effort to keep things as private as can be.  Almost, as it seems that someone has photographic evidence of their trysts, which is the first of several elements of suspicion when a plot is uncovered that may involve a traitor in the ranks of the Secret Service in a possible assassination attempt of the President of the United States (Rasche, Just Married).  The more Garrison investigates, the more signs seem to point to himself as the mole, while his adversary, lead investigator David Breckinridge (Sutherland, Taking Lives), mounts an all-out offensive to root him out before the President ends up dead.

The Sentinel is one of those kinds of movies that entertains and thrills while it is playing, enough to feel it very worthwhile, but as you think back to it, you feel a bit guilty for liking such a highly implausible set of events.  Credit Johnson for being able to keep the pacing brisk enough to keep up suspension of disbelief, while Douglas manages to be both amiable and menacing enough that we are never quite 100% convinced of his innocence or guilt.  I should admit that I was able to accurately predict a few things just from the actor placements in the opening credits, although, thankfully, this doesn't really affect the entertainment value of the movie as a whole.

While at its core, The Sentinel does adhere to certain oft-used formula plotting, the adaptation by George Nolfi (Ocean's Twelve, Timeline) does, at the very least, allow for the characters to emerge enough to feel a connection to the events, even if they all seem a bit routine.  The effective score by Cristophe Beck (The Pink Panther, Two for the Money) and stark cinematography by Gabriel Beristain (The Shaggy Dog, The Ring Two) contribute to the energetic atmosphere, making this thriller, if nothing else, quite thrilling when it needs to be.

The Sentinel has its share of flaws, most notably in a few too many needless characters and clichés, while Johnson manages to over-direct every once in a while, to the detriment of the overall momentum.  It gets more and more creaky as it approaches the climax, however, the goods are still delivered, maintaining a strong sense of tension and intrigue from beginning to end, while Douglas gives us another strong character performance to keep us absorbed in his plight.  You may feel a hangover from the implausibility of it the morning after - but then again, a hangover is usually a sign that you had fun the night before, right?

Qwipster's rating:

©2006 Vince Leo