The Sentinel review by Mike Long

I typically try very hard not to pre-judge movie. If I'm very strong, I will block out pre-conceived notions about the movie's actors, director, or writer while I'm watching it, and I'll try to ignore any opinions about the movie that I may have heard or read. But, I distinctly remember seeing the trailer for The Sentinel and assuming that it was a promo for the show 24 (which I don't watch). When I realized that it was in fact a trailer for a movie starring Keifer Sutherland, I thought, "That looks just like the commercials for 24." So, when I sat down to watch the film, that confusion was all that I could think of. I quickly realized that the film wasn't a rip off of a TV show, but maybe they should have gone in that direction.

The Sentinel takes us inside The Secret Service. Pete Garrison (Michael Douglas) is a veteran agent who is a member of the detail assigned to protect President Ballentine (David Rasche). An informant reports that there is a "mole" inside of the Secret Service and that this person is involved in a plot to assassinate the President. When an agent is murdered, Secret Service investigators David Breckinridge (Kiefer Sutherland) and his rookie partner, Jill Marin (Eva Longoria), are called in to investigate. Their investigation crosses paths with the internal probe to find the "mole" and the evidence points to the fact that Pete is the traitor. Insisting that he's innocent, Peter goes on the lam to clear his name. As Pete find more and more clues, he realizes that he can only prove his innocence by saving the President.

The Sentinel comes from director Clark Johnson, who made the incomprehensible S.W.A.T.. He's back with another movie which is incredibly muddled and hard to follow. Either Johnson is making avant garde films disguised as mainstream thrillers, or he has no idea how to tell a story. The Sentinel throws many ideas at the audience, but doesn't explore any of them. For starters, the movie is sorely lacking on character development. We know that Pete is a life-long Secret Service agent, but we are told little more than that. Pete does have a secret which could jeopardize his job, and this fact is central to the plot, but this indiscretion in never detailed. It's revealed that there is bad blood between Breckinridge and Pete (Breckinridge is convinced that Pete slept with his wife), but it's presented as something that we were supposed to know about before the film started. (In the commentary included on the DVD, the writer and director reveal that there were excised scenes which explained why Breckinridge would suspect this.) Johnson adds insult to injury by aping Tony Scott's style, infusing the film with slow-motion shots, surveillance shots, and different visual mediums, making the film look similar to Enemy of the State.

However, the film's biggest flaw is that the main story is never completely clear. In the film, the facts make it clear that Pete is guilty. However, he asserts that he is innocent and takes it upon himself to prove this fact. While watching the movie, I honestly wasn't sure if Pete was the "mole" or not, and it wasn't until the end that I learned the truth. I assumed that this conceit was intentional to keep the audience guessing. I've now decided that The Sentinel is simply the victim of poor film-making and that this ambiguity was completely unintentional. When the truth is revealed, the explanation is incredibly vague and doesn't justify the preceding 100 minutes. (I'm laying a lot of this blame on the director, but seeing that the writer of The Sentinel also wrote Ocean's Twelve brings everything into focus.)

The confusing story is further hampered by lame action. The car-chases and shoot-outs are very pedestrian and hold little suspense. There is a gunfight and chase-on-foot in a mall which goes on for quite some time and it's one of those scenes where there's no sense of geography. We see the various characters in different parts of the mall and have no idea where anyone is. This may have been done to create a heightened sense of tension in the viewer, but it just adds another layer of confusion to the film.

Don't let the cast of familiar actors in The Sentinel fool you, as this is Michael Douglas' film. He is the main character and is the focus for most of the film. Keifer Sutherland is good in his scenes, but his character is quite minor. And if you want to see The Sentinel due to the presence of Eva Longoria, save your money. She isn't in the film very much and when she is, she only stands there saying nothing. I wasn't aware that Martin Donovan (as the senior Secret Service agent) and Kim Basinger (as the First Lady) were in the film, and they add a nice touch to it.

The Sentinel is a disappointment all around. A fine cast and a interesting idea are wasted in a convoluted and confusing movie that goes simply nowhere. The last film from the director of The Sentinel was a remake of an old TV show. Maybe he should have tried harder to copy 24 with this movie.

The Sentinel spies on DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has come to DVD in two separate formats, one full-frame and one widescreen. For the purpose of this review, only the widescreen version was screened. The film has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks good as the picture is mostly free from grain and shows no defects from the source material. The colors look good, save for some of the de-saturated shots. There was a noticeable amount of artifacting in some scenes, but otherwise the image was stable. The DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 audio was quite impressive. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects with no hissing or distortion. The movie contains many moments where we are treated to "surveillance audio" and the various sounds emanate from all five speakers, surrounding the viewer, which is a very cool sensation. The bass effects were good during the action sequences.

The Sentinel DVD has a diverse group of extra features. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from director Clark Johnson and writer George Nolfi. This is a very casual and laid-back talk as the pair discuss the making of the film. While they didn't discuss the premise as much as I would have liked (or the source novel), they do a good job of talking about the actors and the locations...and their own political views. The DVD has 5 DELETED SCENES which can be viewed with or without comments from Nolfi. This includes an alternate ending, which doesn't change the finale, but wraps up some loose ends. "The Secret Service: Buliding on a Tradition of Excellence" (13 minutes) and "In the President's Shadow" (8 minutes) both contain comments from Gerry Cavis and Kevin Billings, retired Secret Service agents who served as technical advisors on the film. These two featurettes explore the history of the Secret Service and illuminate the job of an agent. There are comments from the cast and crew, as well as behind-the-scenes footage, highlighting how the film attempted to realistically portray an agent's life. The extras are rounded out by two THEATRICAL TRAILERS for the film. Please be advised that the main menu contains major spoilers, so if you see this DVD, start the film as quickly as possible.

4 out of 10 Jackasses

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