The Sentinel had all the promise in the world. I mean, any movie where Michael Douglas is being framed for something he supposedly didn’t do and Kiefer Sutherland is chasing after him brandishing a weapon has to be awesome right? Wrong! Fortunately Kiefer has a get out of bad movie free card ever since becoming Jack Bauer, but in Michael Douglas’ case, it’s been awhile since Basic Instinct and his street cred is fading.
The movie starts off well enough with Douglas as Pete Garrison, a veteran Secret Service agent who does everything by the book. Okay not everything (this is a Michael Douglas movie after all) and Garrison is also doing the first lady Sarah Ballentine well played by an underused Kim Basinger. Don’t worry, even though both Basinger and Douglas look great for their respective ages, we are spared the eye-sore of a steamy love scene between them. In the meantime, the film pulls you in with an interesting behind the scenes look at the work of the secret service, proving it’s not all black suits and cool glasses. In fact, part of their job is taking bullets and that’s exactly what happens to one of Garrison’s close comrades when he stumbles upon a potential plot to murder the head honcho.
Enter Jack Bauer. We wish. Enter David Breckinridge (Kiefer Sutherland), the agent sent to investigate the crime who still holds a grudge over former best friend Garrison for possibly breaking up his marriage. With him is rookie agent Jill Marin (Eva Longoria) who let’s just say is no Chloe O’Brian, but does do a good job of absorbing Breckinridge’s snarky comments. Sutherland does what he can with the role, but you can’t help but want him to put a little more bad ass in a movie that winds up being just plain bad.
Back to the plot. As Garrison continues to look into the murder through a reliable snitch, he finds out there is a potential mole in the secret service. All of the men are asked to take a polygraph and Garrison fails because of his affair with the first lady. To make matters worse, the criminals use incriminating photos of Garrison secret-servicing the first lady to make sure he takes the fall. On the eve of his arrest, Garrison goes on the run to find the real mole before he is taken out for good. So where does the movie go wrong? I can pinpoint the exact moment. It is when the producers hired the guy who wrote Ocean's 12 to adapt the book. I am convinced they didn’t see Ocean's 12 because then they would have anticipated a movie rife with underdeveloped characters and an incongruous plot that banks too much on big-named actors to save it.
Despite some interesting action sequences, the film can’t manage to uphold the suspense and the mole is obvious after about ten minutes. For men who are supposed to be so highly trained, they aren’t too quick on the uptake. To makes matters worse, the villains are never given a motive for their crimes and certainly can’t get by on coolness alone, since they are about as cool as the dancing French guy in Ocean's 12. But even with all these problems, I still sort of enjoyed the movie. Sure the relationships were underdeveloped to the detriment of the storyline, and yes, it was predictable but 24 is still months away, and so if you are desperate to hear Kiefer berate someone, this isn’t a bad second choice.
While the film itself was disappointing, the DVD was a pleasant surprise. This widescreen disc had several special features that were actually worth watching including a set of deleted scenes that might have helped with many of the underdeveloped character issues. The film can be viewed with commentary by the director and screenwriter, and their exchange is somewhat entertaining, especially when they joke about affairs with Barbara Bush and their ninth grade English teachers. But they fail to explain all the unanswered questions and wind up being annoying since you just want to yell at the screen, “Don’t you see how OBVIOUS that is???”
One place screenwriter George Nolfi’s commentary is particularly useful is during the deleted scenes where he explains why scenes that are actually useful to character development are cut. The scenes I enjoyed most were ironically written by someone else (go figure), but at least Nolfi attempts to justify the extraction. The alternate ending I ultimately preferred to the one they gave us, and while I admit it was a bit too neat and Hollywoody (which is why they snipped it), I think it helped give the characters some much needed depth. Then again, if you aren’t developed by minute 107, there isn’t much point anyway.
The most interesting parts of the DVD are two featurettes on the real life secret service and how the film captured their essence, which were pretty informative. Sure they basically were both about the same thing, but you get a nice behind the scenes glance at the movie and you learn a little too. My favorite part was when the actors discussed a competition in target practice between Longoria, Sutherland and Douglas... my money was on Jack Bauer of course...you’ll enjoy how it turns out.
The film is offered with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and dubbed in both Spanish and French with Spanish subtitles. And in case you were curious, even in the Spanish version the bad guy still isn’t given a motive.