If Michael Douglas were the Beatles, Catherine Zeta-Jones would have to be Yoko Ono. The guy had a nearly unrivaled run for a decade and a half, from Romancing the Stone and Wall Street through Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct and, more recently, The Game. Traffic and The Wonder Boys both came out in 2000.
It's been downhill for Douglas ever since: One Night at McCools, It Runs in the Family, a lame remake of The In-Laws. Is anybody surprised? If you had Catherine Zeta-Jones at home, would your mind be on business?
However blissful it's been for him on the domestic front, the new century hasn't exactly been the best of times for the actor professionally. The Sentinel, I am sorry to say, does nothing to reverse that trend. Adapted from the novel by Gerald Petievich and directed by Clark Johnson, the film -- in which Douglas plays a Secret Service agent accused of plotting to kill the president -- is a ho-hum crossbreeding of In the Line of Fire and The Fugitive.
The opening half hour offers a semi-diverting look at daily life in the White House from the point of view of the elite staff of agents assigned to guarding the first couple. A stunning amount of fuss, for example, is made over the simple matter of the President and the First Lady waking up, going through their morning routine, and heading off in a motorcade to their day's activities. Code names are whispered into miniature radios, and top-secret traffic routes are kept undercover until the last possible moment. A small army of men and women in black closely monitors the couple's every move; snipers are positioned on the rooftops.
Realistic detail quickly gives way to B-movie monkey business, however. Douglas' character, Pete Garrison, is a legend in the department -- the agent who saved Reagan's life by throwing himself on the president and taking a bullet for him. These days he's more likely to be found throwing himself on the current president's wife. That's right, he's having an affair with the First Lady -- a fact that's only slightly harder to swallow than the proposition that the chief executive is married to Kim Basinger. Or that, in residences constantly swarming with Secret Service personnel, Garrison could possibly conduct such a covert op without dozens of officers catching on.
Equally difficult to buy: A fellow agent (played by the film's director) has uncovered evidence which we later learn points to the existence of a traitor in their midst. Rather than bullet-train the information to someone with the authority to act on it, he passes Garrison in the hallway and simply asks him to telephone after work. Needless to say, the fellow does not live to take that call.
The next thing we know, Garrison is being sent envelopes containing incriminating photos of himself and First Lady Basinger. At about the same time, a snitch informs him that a plot is afoot to assassinate the president, and someone inside the agency is involved. We are never told how the informant could possibly have knowledge of the plan, much less the evidence he supplies. Nor are we surprised when he turns up deceased, too.
As hard-to-swallow plot developments continue to be served up, we are ever less surprised. Kiefer Sutherland costars as the agent placed in charge of the investigation: David Breckinridge and Garrison used to be best friends. Now Breckinridge has it in for his old pal because he believes he had an affair with his wife. Garrison denies this. Breckinridge's wife denies this. Breckinridge at no point provides any basis for believing this. Nonetheless, he has turned on Garrison and is only too happy to issue a warrant for his arrest when he fails to pass the polygraph test every agent is forced to take. Only the audience and Garrison realize the reason for this: One of the questions forces him to lie about his level of access to the body he's being paid to guard.
The second half of the picture is a rehash of The Fugitive, with Garrison using his high-level, well-honed skills to stay one step ahead of the less experienced agents on his trail (These include a rookie played by "Desperate Housewife" Eva Longoria). Just as Harrison Ford did, he manages to be on the lam and uncover evidence pointing to the identity of the guilty party at the same time. Will he unmask the real mole before gung-ho agents can track him down and take him out? Three guesses. The Sentinel is a political thriller that has almost nothing to do with politics and is even lighter on thrills.
What it does have is generic Russian bad guys and the feel of an only so-so TV procedural. My advice: Stay home and watch one of those. Eleven years ago Michael Douglas played the American president. Today he's been reduced to playing one of the president's men. If he doesn't turn things around, the next time we see him in the White House, he's likely to be on the small screen, doing a guest shot on "The West Wing" or "Commander in Chief."
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