Somebody's out to assassinate the president ... Why don't they just call Jack Bauer?
Douglas plays Secret Service agent Pete Garrison, a veteran best remembered for having taken a bullet for Ronald Reagan. When a fellow agent is assassinated, it becomes increasingly clear that there's a plot afoot to kill the current president and that there's a mole inside the secret service. Is Pete the mole? His former friend and protege David Breckinridge (Sutherland) sure thinks so and he's determined to find out the truth, with the help of ambitious young agent Jill Marin (Eva Longoria).
For its first act, "The Sentinel" establishes the world of the secret service, the complicated webs of codes, nicknames, surveillance and enhanced security. Director Clark Johnson ("S.W.A.T.") uses the grammar of '70s paranoid thrillers -- frequent zooms, extreme POV shots, endless adjustments of focus -- and gives it a 21st century spin by punctuating the action with little chapter breaks of "noise" -- snippets of terrorist chatter mixed with threatening images.
The early scenes are all about groundwork and they click, but once the plot kicks in, two things are instantly clear: The first is that every second of what's to follow is just a Macguffin. All of the talk of conspiracies and machinations to kill the president lack substance, as do the clues that suggest Pete may be involved. It's paper-thin and the actual explanations -- delivered in obligatory expositional monologues -- don't suggest any creativity on the part of writer George Nolfi. The identity of the real villain is also extremely obvious. Hmmm ... who's the highest profile actor not part of the main action? In the absence of any real mystery or twists, all you're left with is a jumble that Jack Bauer and Chloe O'Brien could unravel before the first commercial break on a single episode of "24."
Looking svelte and assured, Douglas is enough of a pro in roles like this that only some people will stop to ponder the odds of a man of his age still being an active agent for even the first lady (Kim Basinger in a thankless role). The character's humanizing aspects -- his guilt over not fully protecting Reagan and his age-appropriate exhaustion after long runs -- will seem fresher if you skipped Clint Eastwood's far superior performance in "In the Line of Fire."
Sutherland's authority and gravitas are nearly on autopilot here, just an extension of his more stressful television day job. Effort has been taken to make it clear that David Breckinridge is different from Jack Bauer -- he's less decisive and less prone to torture, mostly.
It's easier to distinguish Longoria's character from her "Desperate Housewives" role. Gabrielle Solis wouldn't look as comfortable firing a gun, but she'd also probably have smarter dialogue and a more useful outlet for her sexuality than just having all of the main male characters checking out her butt all the time.
It's interesting and telling that the producers of "The Sentinel" are so confident that film is a superior medium to television that they're willing to give two of the small screen's finest performers subpar material to what would get 24 episodes per season. Sutherland and Longoria probably got hefty paychecks to settle, but viewers have to pay the price.