A Different Kind of Secret Service
Hello again, everyone, and welcome to another dose of out-of-date film criticism from the land at the root of the sun. My local cinema in Chiba is called the Rose, and very pleasant it is, too. However, for reasons doubtless to do with floorspace, it's been split into two separate branches about fifty metres apart. The one at the east end of the building is known, reasonably enough, as Rose East. The one at the other end is, to English ears at least, less felicitously named.
However, it does show some good movies, such as Clark Johnson's The Sentinel, which I caught there recently. At first glance, this just appears to be yet another oblique exploration of the male midlife crisis with Michael Douglas hogging the screen, but it thankfully has a little more to commend it.
Douglas plays veteran Secret Service agent and bodyguard Pete Garrison, a man so dedicated to his job that he took a bullet for the President, even though it was Ronnie Reagan at the time. There is trouble afoot in Washington, as there is a plot to murder the current incumbent, involving terrorists from Safelyfictionalistan (whose boss still manages to be Cockney, bemusingly enough) and, worse of all, a traitor inside the Secret Service. Soon the place is being turned upside down in search of a man with something to hide!
Unfortunately for Pete, he does have something to hide, mainly that he's illicitly knocking off the First Lady (Kim Bazinger, ageing gracefully) — students of cultural history may like to note how ten years ago the movie President was a heroic, dynamic figure, always punching out terrorists or romancing women (politely) or hopping into a fighter jet to save the world from aliens. These days he's just a nonentity who gets cuckolded by the hero. I wonder what can have changed? Well anyway, this gets in the way and Pete is fitted up as the mole. So off he goes on the run to clear his name, pursued by his former friend and protege Breckinridge (Kiefer Sutherland, ageing pretty gracefully himself) and a perky young rookie (Eva Longoria, showing barely a wrinkle).
As I said, The Sentinel is pretty good for what it is, which is an action movie where the hero is visibly over sixty. The subtext is rather like that of the recent Harrison Ford movie Firewall: middle-age spread, crow's feet and younger guys gunning for your job are no barrier to your being a great guy, saving the day and getting the girl (although Douglas and Longoria quite properly don't get it on — she is, after all, young enough to be, erm, his wife, now I come to think about it). This message seemed precisely tailored to the bunch of middle-aged salarymen who comprised virtually the entire audience at the showing I went to!
This is, though, a rather better movie than Firewall — it has a visibly bigger budget, the story is slightly less hackneyed and it's not so slavishly beholden to techno-zeitgeistery for its plot twists1. That said, there are a few fairly major holes in the plot and there's a toe-curling bit near the end where the traitor is nearly overwhelmed with remorse at how un-American he's been.
Douglas does a decent job as the lead, but Sutherland is rather better as his relentless pursuer, giving a very impressive performance. Longoria is, it must be said, largely ornamental — but what an ornament! You can sense Johnson's frustration that she spends virtually the entire movie in a suit. Basinger is okay in an underwritten part, but I have to say that crucial though it is, the whole knocking-off-the-First-Lady subplot struck me as being slightly too implausible.
The Sentinel isn't perfect, but it's engaging and convoluted enough to hold the attention, the performances are appealing and in places it genuinely thrills. As thrillers go, above average.