By Pete Vonder Haar | April 23, 2006

If there’s been a noticeable lack of dramas centered on the American Presidency (especially those involving the Secret Service) lately, it might have something to do with the current Imperious Leader’s plummeting approval ratings. How much dramatic tension is there to be had, and how much empathy can you expect from the audience, when a) the majority of them couldn’t be bothered to vote in the Presidential election in the first place, and b) the bulk of those who did aren’t what you’d call fans of the man currently holding the job?

Michael Douglas, the producer and star of “The Sentinel,” is obviously hoping there’s still enough goodwill there to make him back some money. Douglas plays Pete Garrison, a veteran Secret Service agent who also happened to take a bullet in the gut the last time an assassination was attempted (Ronald Reagan, for those of you who may have already killed those brain cells). He’s devoted to his job and highly respected by his peers for his devotion to duty. Said duty probably doesn’t include sleeping with the First Lady (Kim Basinger), which Garrison is also doing, but the guy obviously believes in a thorough defense strategy.

Unfortunately for Garrison, someone else is privy to his dalliances, and appears to be using this information to set him up as a patsy for an attempt on the President’s life involving an inside man in the Service. After one of his fellow agents is murdered, two other Secret Service personnel are assigned to investigate. Eva Longoria plays Jill Marin, a rookie with an impressive résumé. Longoria is obviously filling the important role of Hottest Actress They Could Get for the Supporting Role (Jessica Alba must have been busy kicking her agent in the a*s for pitching “Into the Blue”). She’s partnered with her supervisor, David Breckenridge. He’s played by Keifer Sutherland, making a helluva acting stretch by portraying another tightly wound federal agent. Breckenridge and Garrison also have A History, which increases the tension and casts the former’s motives into suspicion when his investigation increasingly points to Garrison as the traitor.

“The Sentinel” plays like a 108 minute episode of “Hawaii 5-0,” minus the exotic locale (unless Toronto counts). It’s fitting, because writer George Nolfi is also penning the upcoming “5-0” remake, but ‘70s cop shows are hardly the template one wants to use for compelling suspense. The slick production and decent direction (by “Homicide’s” Clark Johnson) are sabotaged by plot holes you could fly Marine One through. When Garrison rabbits, for example, he manages to get hold of another agent’s radio, and for some reason the Secret Service doesn’t change any of their codes. Characters crucial to Garrison’s search for the truth are conveniently accessible to him even when he’s on the run and by rights they should be under about three levels of surveillance, and the mystery traitor (you’ll know who it is the first time he/she appears on screen), when he tries to back out of the plan, seems shocked when the baddies threaten his family.

I have no idea how old the novel “The Sentinel” is based upon is, and I’m too lazy to look it up, but if it was written any more recently that 1983 I’d be surprised (fine, I checked, it was 2003). This is a movie that desperately wants to be as thrilling as its most obvious predecessor, Clint Eastwood’s “In the Line of Fire,” but it has much more in common – from a quality standpoint – with “Guarding Tess.”

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