Here's the thing about "The Sentinel:" It is one of those movies you've seen a dozen times before in various incarnations, and often done better, but most often done worse. That this movie has a TV show, miniseries, direct-to-DVD, and/or decade-or-two-past feel to it is about the worst thing that can be said about it. Alas, that is all true. But there are other movies you could say the same about that, if I saw them bashed, I would go to the mat in defense of (anyone remember Wesley Snipes in the taunt, but underrated because of it generics thriller "Murder at 1600?").
Like the buddy cop thrillers, teen slasher movies, one man army flicks from Stallone and Schwarzenegger, and the Steven Seagal/Van Damme type action pics, Hollywood used to crank these political potboilers out in droves in the 80's and 90's. So it is only fitting that this film stars Michael Douglas, Kiefer Sutherland and Kim Basinger, since this movie is a product of their film-career heydays; not to mention they have all covered similar territory before in a number of films. The parts in this movie are a stretch for no one. Kiefer Sutherland does Jack Baur-lite, Michael Douglas wears a suit, beds the babe and spends the movie trying to figure out a lofty conspiracy and clear his name at the same time. Granted, Eva Langoria has never played a Secret Service agent to my knowledge, but then again she doesn't much play one here either. Still her presence is the one way that when we look back on this movie in 10 or 15 years, we won't confuse it for something that came out in 1993.
None of this makes "The Sentinel" bad, but it is a little disappointing that the makers didn't realize that their film was generic and try to do something to overcome the genre conventions. All of this plays out pretty much how you'd expect. No surprises or big twists. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for a tight, straightforward thriller, and "The Sentinel" isn't exactly predictable, but it's never particularly engaging. You want to see how it all ends up, but the outcome is like any other. Of course, it is possible the makers wanted to deliver more of a Secret Service procedural, and on that level, and on the general skill of the cast and director, "The Sentinel" earns a recommendation.
Here is a quote from the film critic at The Onion that sums up just what I was thinking after this movie: "Here's the problem facing the generic political thriller "The Sentinel:" Television is still free. As standards continue to rise and TV more readily turns out first-rate action serials, the bar has been raised for Hollywood cinema, and air-conditioning alone isn't its salvation. No one should know that better than Clark Johnson, a seasoned director of superior cop shows like "The Shield," and star Kiefer Sutherland, whose heads up one of TV's tensest hours in "24." For the most part, the professionals on both sides of the camera know how to deliver the goods: "The Sentinel" gets the job done, supplying a steady mix of action and intrigue without embarrassing itself too much. Yet any given episode of The Shield or 24 is more densely plotted, more surprising, and considerably deeper in characterization."
Well, that's pretty much what I just said, and that is pretty accurate. Even if you loved this movie, you should be able to admit to that. But again, if that's the worst that can be said about a movie, it's probably still worth checking out.
If you want to see a Secret Service thriller done right, Clint Eastwood's "In the Line of Fire" remains the high standard.