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Silly ‘Sentinel’ delivers modest action

You’re better off catching Sutherland in an episode of ‘24’
/ Source: The Associated Press

In “The Sentinel,” Michael Douglas stars as Kiefer Sutherland in a big-screen clone of “24,” playing a fed caught up in a lurid tale of illicit passion, presidential assassination and an agent on the run.

Tonight’s special guest star: Kiefer Sutherland.

Adapted from the novel by former Secret Service agent Gerald Petievich, “The Sentinel” delivers modest action at best. A decent episode of Sutherland’s “24” packs more and better action sequences in less than half the movie’s running time.

The plot is silly, Douglas and Sutherland’s characters are shallow, and one of the interpersonal entanglements — details of which we’ll withhold for those few conspiracy buffs interested in catching the movie — is beyond outlandish.

What “The Sentinel” does cough up, if you’re into that kind of thing, is loads of mildly interesting detail about Secret Service tactics and stratagems. Call it a police procedural at the 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. precinct house.

Along with the story, the central characters and their relationships are cliched and contrived. Director Clark Johnson (the filmmaker behind “S.W.A.T.” who played detective Lewis on TV’s “Homicide: Life on the Street”) opens with footage of the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, and we learn that Douglas’ Secret Service agent Pete Garrison took a bullet that day protecting the president.

Sutherland plays David Breckinridge, a high-strung but methodical agent and former pal of Garrison’s. They’re now on the outs because Breckinridge is convinced Garrison was sleeping with his wife. But Garrison doesn’t hold a grudge, recommending to protege Jill Marin (Eva Longoria) that she sign on to work with Breckinridge, the Secret Service’s ace investigator.

Garrison’s now a revered veteran assigned to protect the president’s wife (Kim Basinger), an impossibly hot first lady despite her perpetually dour demeanor.

Johnson takes on a brief role as Garrison’s buddy and fellow agent, who has a secret he wants to share but is gunned down before he can spill the goods. Meantime, a snitch puts Garrison onto a plot to kill the president (David Rasche, whose cheery blandness suggests not so much the leader of the free world as a politely efficient Kmart garden-supplies manager).

Then someone tries to blackmail Garrison for that previously mentioned outlandish entanglement we’ve vowed to keep secret, and evidence turns up implicating him in the assassination scheme.

So big-screen “24” turns into bad copy of “The Fugitive” as Garrison goes on the lam, trying to prove his innocence while eluding Breckinridge, Marin and a disconcertingly incompetent gaggle of Secret Service agents.

“He is smarter and more experienced than all of you,” Breckinridge tells the goon squad pursuing Garrison. “You are chasing your worst nightmare.”

You’d never know that from the tame chases and boring interplay Johnson and screenwriter George Nolfi concoct. The pace is drowsy, the identity of the mole inside the White House pretty obvious early on, and the villainous foot soldiers trying to kill the president are oafs, an international coalition of the witless.

In her first major movie role, “Desperate Housewives” star Longoria looks great in her crisp all-business-but-very-chic fed attire. Beyond that, she barely registers, her superficial character lacking personality and coming off as faint reflection of Jodie Foster’s rookie agent in “The Silence of the Lambs.”

Martin Donovan’s another banal presence as head of the president’s Secret Service detail, while Blair Brown is stuck with barely more than a couple of walk-ons as the national security adviser.

The movie might have worked better if Douglas and Sutherland had swapped roles. Douglas’ Garrison is supposed to be the outside-the-box rebel spirit and Sutherland’s Breckinridge the proficient control freak.

Yet Douglas exudes a tightly wound efficacy that might have been more appropriate for Breckinridge.

And while Sutherland’s not old enough to have taken a bullet for Reagan, it certainly would have livened up “The Sentinel” to see him in the fugitive role, running off half-cocked like Jack Bauer of “24.”