Weak Script Conspires Against 'The Sentinel'

By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 21, 2006

The best thing about "The Sentinel," starring Michael Douglas as a Secret Service agent, isn't the movie, or even Douglas. It's the world you enter.

That would be the security detail protecting POTUS. There's the rush of being in the A-team -- that whole buzz-headed, shade-sporting, earpiece-crackling, ready-to-take-a-bullet-for-the-president ethos.

" 'Classic' is in the car," you bark into your shoulder mike, and no, you're not referring to packing soda in the Subaru. It means -- at least in "The Sentinel" -- that the president is packed in his limousine: motorcade ride! Slap on the siren lights. Scan the crowds (suckas!) watching from behind the barricades. Sure, the prez is the man, but you're the one in command, serving with alpha swagger.

This passing fantasy is just our way of delaying the bad news: "Sentinel" is a medium-dumb thriller that starts out with momentary promise but gets progressively sillier.

Douglas is Special Agent Pete Garrison, with a special agent problem. A few years back, he slept with the wife of his best friend and protege David Breckinridge (Kiefer Sutherland). Now he's smooching with Sarah Ballentine (Kim Basinger), who just happens to be the first lady. When Pete receives incriminating photos of himself and Mrs. Chief Executive, he realizes he's being blackmailed. Worse, he learns there may be a conspiracy to assassinate the president and that someone's trying to frame him as the perp.

"Sentinel," directed by Clark Johnson, pulls from better Washington intrigue movies. As in "All the President's Men," there's a dramatic confrontation in a covered parking lot. Our hero, just like Clint Eastwood's character from "In the Line of Fire," has recurring flashbacks about an assassination -- or attempted one. And, as in "No Way Out," everyone's looking for the mole in the organization.

The movie sinks into a pit of conspiracy cliches, from the D.C. detective who talks like he's from a Manhattan borough to Pete's unkempt on-the-street informer who seems to know everything. When Pete's special agent pal Charlie (played by director Johnson) gives Pete a muttered warning about fishy things in the service, it's laughably obvious Charlie's minutes on screen are numbered.

Speaking of laughter, you are officially challenged to refrain from it as Pete and the first lady sneak around the White House looking for places to smooch. (At least they don't say things like, "Lincoln bedroom, 10 o'clock.") And then there's the howler formulaic dialogue. It's too bad Sutherland can't morph into Jack Bauer and save this movie. But then, we wouldn't want to spend another minute, let alone 24 hours, sitting through it.

The Sentinel (105 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for profanity, intense action and some suggested sexuality.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company