Appellate Judge James A. Stewart wants to see 24 episodes of Kiefer Sutherland filling out the paperwork on one of his escapades.
"You are chasing your worst nightmare. He knows how you think, he knows what you know, and he knows how you operate. He will use that against you."
That's Kiefer Sutherland talking as he plays a ruthless government agent, and he's tracking down one-time best friend Pete Garrison (Michael Douglas, The Game). Sounds like it's Garrison's worst nightmare, too, even if Kiefer's not playing that ruthless government agent. Here's what Kiefer Sutherland did on his summer vacation from playing Agent Jack Bauer on 24.
Facts of the Case
The movie opens with footage of the attempt on President Reagan's life back in the 1980s. Seems that Garrison was one of the agents who saved Reagan's life. Flash forward to today, and Secret Service Agent Garrison's just getting up for the day, doing his pushups and running on a treadmill as he watches Sportscenter. He walks up to the White House and strolls in for work under the watchful eyes of the security cameras, not to mention a cadre of sharpshooters on the roof.
Meanwhile, Agent David Breckenridge (Sutherland) greets new partner Jill Marin (Eva Longoria, Desperate Housewives) with a hint of soft-spoken intimidation. After all, she's four minutes late. Soon they're investigating the shooting of a fellow agent on his doorstep. The police say it's random street violence, but Breckenridge is suspicious.
"For some average street criminal to get a drop on him. Yeah, it raises some questions," Breckenridge tells the cops. He's determined to find the killer, and the trail leads back to the Secret Service.
When it comes to adultery, Garrison doesn't fool around. He's having an affair with First Lady Ballentine (Kim Basinger, L.A. Confidential). That means he doesn't pass the polygraph. By the time there's a second murder, that makes Garrison the prime suspect. That makes the case personal for Breckenridge on two levels, since Breckenridge also believes Garrison slept with his wife.
The Sentinel has a lot of the elements of a good season of 24: a mole in the agency, the wrong guy being targeted, an assassination threat, and a personal angle for Kiefer Sutherland. Now if Chloe O'Brian had taken a job with the Secret Service, you'd have the Reduced Shakespeare Company version of 24. It's still like going straight to the payoff on a season of 24, though. Kiefer Sutherland goes one-on-one with his quarries, first Michael Douglas's Garrison, then an actual agency mole. The plot revolves around a twist that sounds obvious when it's revealed, but it seems credible enough that the agents missed a detail under pressure.
Kiefer Sutherland's Breckenridge seems a little more hesitant than Bauer in a showdown with Garrison, but you'll recognize the similarities with TV's no-nonsense agent from the moment he's introduced. Michael Douglas, however, makes a better-than-average quarry for Sutherland, playing Garrison with a sharpness that makes him a worthy opponent and signs of introspection that humanize an otherwise by-the-numbers thriller. In the end, Douglas does a Baueresque turn, too, rushing to the President's rescue even though he knows he could be shot as the suspected assassin. The cast is strong overall, though most of the supporting characters aren't fleshed out that well.
The direction by Clark Johnson (Homicide: Life On The Street) is serviceable, most notably using security cameras to come close to the multi-view 24 effect on occasion and giving us just a glimpse of TV news-style footage intermixed with the movie footage in a scene with a campaign stop. Most of the time, the transfer is good, but a couple of scenes had ghostly double images around the actors; since I had a screener copy, this flaw might be cleared up for general release.
Was this D.C.-set drama shot there? Yes and no. The credits show that filming split between Washington and Toronto. The commentary explains that scenes were done as much as possible in Washington, but that securing filming permits is difficult there. Thus, many scenes blend footage of the two cities. The final action sequence moves the story to Toronto, meaning that Clark Johnson got to shoot the Toronto skyline as Toronto, as he mentions in the commentary. That commentary, by Johnson and screenwriter George Nolfi, is jokey and has a lot of spoilers if you watch it first; the most fascinating part is seeing how the scenes from the two cities were blended. Nolfi also comments on the deleted scenes, candidly explaining how audience reaction led to one trim.
The special features also include two short documentaries on the Secret Service: "The Secret Service: Building on a Tradition of Excellence," which lets us know that the agency was signed into law by Abraham Lincoln in 1865 shortly before he was assassinated; the function of protecting the president was added to the agency's duties later. "In the President's Shadow" tells us a little more about what life's like for agents; they have to be young and athletic to keep up with President Bush while he's jogging, for example. At just under 20 minutes, they just give a quick overview, but they're fairly entertaining. The best tidbit is that Eva Longoria, it turns out, is a better shot than the two action-movie stars she shares the screen with; perhaps she'll turn up in more of these flicks after her stint in Strangest Suburbia wraps up. Rounding out the package are two theatrical trailers, which are almost identical.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Putting TV stars in movie settings that'll be familiar to their TV fans started back when Lucy and Desi hitched a ride in The Long, Long Trailer. Couldn't they have come up with a unique concept for Kiefer Sutherland instead? Even making Sutherland a Mountie, since a lot of this movie is filmed in Canada anyway, might have been a nice little change of pace.
The Sentinel wasn't a blockbuster, taking in $36,280,697 domestically earlier this year. When it came out in April, people could see Kiefer Sutherland in roughly the same role on TV. Now that 24 is on hiatus, though, this all-too-familiar thriller makes a good rental to tide you over until Jack Bauer's fate is revealed in January.
Not guilty, even though Mary Jane Rajskub doesn't even make a cameo. Maybe she can star in The Sentinel 2.
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Scales of Justice
• Deleted Scenes Including Alternate Ending with Commentary by George Nolfi
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