Dir: Clark Johnson. US.2006. 108mins.
One of the biggest challenges facing contemporary UScinema is the high quality of homegrown TV drama, beit The West Wing, The Shield or The Sopranos or so-called "procedurals" like Law And Order or CSI. It is why a movie like TheSentinel, a White House-set thriller about Secret Service agents, feelslike it is treading in very familiar territory.
Nor have the producers,Michael Douglas among them, tried to elevate the material. Director ClarkJohnson has a background in episodic television and brings a lot of TV tricksto the table here, while two of the film's biggest names - Kiefer Sutherlandand Eva Longoria - are now household names as a result of hit TV shows.
Thank heavens, then, forDouglas the movie star, whose unique brand of charisma is as bright as ever,even as he strides into his sixties. Recalling his heyday in hit thrillers likeFatal Attraction, Disclosure, Basic Instinct and The Game,Douglas again plays a fundamentally decent man whose desires have got thebetter of him. The film, whose plot is absurd and whose execution is pedestrian,will rise or fall based on the current level of his popularity.
Douglas has not been onscreen in leading thriller roles since Don't Say A Word (2001)and A Perfect Murder (1998) and theirperformances indicate dwindling interest in the star. A Perfect Murder took a respectable $67.4m in the domestic marketand $60m in international. Don't Say A Wordthree years later took $55m in domestic and just $39m in international. Hiscomedies The In-Laws and It Runs In TheFamily both tanked.
There hasn't been anacross-the-board hit set in and around the White House since Douglas played The American President. Thrillers like Murder At 1600, Absolute Power and TheContender have proved underwhelming at the box office in recent years, notto mention First Daughter and Chasing Liberty. With The West Wing and Commander-In-Chief on TV, as well as the ongoing real-lifeescapades of Mr Bush, audiences perhaps have their fill of drama onPennsylvania Avenue.
The Sentinelopens in the US this Friday, day and date with parts of Asia (Taiwan,Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines) and New Zealand, but will not reach the restof the world until July (Spain), August (Brazil, Mexico, Australia) andSeptember (UK, France).
In The Sentinel, Douglas plays Phil Garrison, a US Secret Serviceagent who took a bullet for Reagan in the assassination attempt in 1981 and whois now in charge of the First Lady's detail in the White House.He is also conducting a secret affair with theFirst Lady (Basinger), a sensitive woman whosehusband (Rasche) has little time for her.
The action starts when acolleague and friend of Garrison's (played by Johnson himself) is shot dead athis house in a targeted murder. The Secret Service's top investigative agentDavid Breckinbridge (Sutherland) takes charge of thecase assisted by a young rookie Jill Marin (Longoria). The two follow a trailof clues that leads to a plot to assassinate the president and a mole withinthe service who is aiding the assassins.
All fingers point toGarrison, who is trying to cover up the fact that he is being blackmailed withcompromising pictures of himself and the First Lady.
Convinced that he is beingframed, Garrison goes on the run, desperately trying to nail the real molewhile being pursued by his own colleagues.
The plot has a few too manyholes to make sense, but Johnson keeps the action moving as fast as any hour ofTV, so any problems with the narrative are soon forgotten. Quiet moments - likean awkward love scene between Douglas and Basinger -are thankfully few and far between.
New Regency Productions
20th Century Fox/Regency Enterprises
George Nolfi, fromthe novel by Gerald Petievich