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The Sentinel

It's not that Michael Douglas has built a career out of playing dumb guys — it's just that, if you're going to make a movie starring a guy who makes really, really bad choices, you might want to check your bankroll and then call Michael Douglas. There was that ill-advised affair with a bunny-boiler in Fatal Attraction (1987). There was that ill-advised affair with a leg-crossing murder suspect in Basic Instinct (1992). And in The Sentinel (2006), Douglas has an ill-advised affair with the most powerful woman in the world. Douglas stars as Pete Garrison, a U.S. Secret Service agent assigned to the protection detail of President Ballentine (David Rasche), and specifically to guard his wife, Sarah (Kim Basinger). Garrison has been feuding for several years with his former friend, David Breckinridge (Kiefer Sutherland), who is one of the agency's foremost investigators. The two do their best to avoid each other, but when one of Garrison's agents is shot down on the front steps of his own home, Breckinridge and his new partner Jill Marin (Eva Longoria) are given the case. Meanwhile, when a low-level informant (Raynor Scheine) tells Garrison that a mole within the Secret Service is part of an assassination plot — and delivers classified papers to prove it — the crisis is folded into Breckinridge's murder investigation. In short order, the Service begins sweeping its own ranks with polygraphs, which normally wouldn't bother Garrison, except that he's having an affair with the First Lady, and somebody's sent him photos for leverage. Caught up in the sting, Garrison tries to contact the blackmailers. But Breckinridge targets him as the mole, forcing Garrison to "go black" in order to clear his own name.

*          *          *

The Sentinel is a creditable espionage thriller, capably directed by veteran TV helmer (and journeyman actor) Clark Johnson, whose list of credits is extensive, despite directing just one feature film before this one, S.W.A.T. (2003). However, Clark's involvement is logical enough — The Sentinel has just as much in common with today's popular policiers on network and cable TV as it does with high-budget feature filmmaking, and Clark's credentials include such franchises as "Homicide," "The West Wing," "Law & Order," and "The Wire." As the quality of television drama improves, it's likely that more directors will emerge from its ranks to take on theatrical products. The Sentinel's small-screen credentials don't end with Clark either — both Keifer Sutherland and Eva Longoria have found enormous success on network television ("24," "Desperate Housewives"), and the film observes the finer details of day-to-day White House business in the same manner that made "The West Wing" popular for several seasons. The script, adapted from a novel by Gerald Petievich, has a Clancy-esque quality, particularly in terms of Clancy's focus on the Executive Branch, reaffirming that the American Presidency remains one of the world's modern royalties, where the trappings of wealth and power can be subverted by fifth columnists and court intrigue — it's a formula older than Shakespeare, and reliable as light entertainment. After a three-year break, Michael Douglas returns to the big screen, joined by Kim Basinger, and both lend the project marquee appeal. The third act arrives a little too quickly, and it's not nearly as interesting as the complications that preceded it, but The Sentinel finds itself making a statement that few films have needed to make in the past — it's a movie that's actually good enough to be on TV. Fox's DVD release features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include a commentary track by director Clark Johnson and screenwriter George Nolfi, four deleted scenes and an alternate ending, with optional commentary and a "play all" feature, and the featurettes "The Secret Service: Building on a Tradition of Excellence" (13 min.) and "In the President's Shadow" (7 min.). Keep-case.

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