Battle of the uglies, and viewers lose

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Battle of the uglies, and viewers lose

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In history class, learning the names and parties of the U.S. presidents in order was probably a necessary annoyance (I enjoyed it, but I’m not normal). But if you believe the movies, the American executive branch gets a lot more interesting. We’ve been led by extreme high-flying action heroes (“Air Force One”), half-crazed sex fiends (“Absolute Power”), a great many idiots and a few sensitive romantics (“The American President”).
Coincidentally, the big man in that last film, Michael Douglas, is back in another presidential flick, but this time he’s not inside the Oval Office, he’s outside guarding it. As Pete Garrison, Douglas is a devoted Secret Service agent having an affair with the first lady that eventually turns him into a fugitive trying to track down the real plotters in a conspiracy to assassinate the president. Agent Breckenridge (Kiefer Sutherland) has to catch his former best friend, and try not to let the affair he suspects Garrison had with his wife cloud his judgment.
We’ve seen it all before. The webs of implausible love affairs, the undependable enemy spy who turns on the bad guys a moment too late, the nubile young rookie with the disarmingly good intuition but sexually non-threatening naivete (Eva Longoria). The best place for this kind of movie is 11:30 p.m. Sunday on cable with a frozen dinner and nowhere to go. You’d watch half of it, finish your bad microwave lasagna and fall asleep on the couch with the TV on because you know what’s going to happen and you have absolutely no emotional attachment to any of the characters.
The bad guys are only sketched out in wide terms as vaguely ex-KGB, and what passes for intrigue is unbelievably obvious. (The bad guys cleaned up the evidence before the police could arrive? Gasp! Never saw that coming!) The least they could do is give us a rousing finale with big explosions and a noble president who proves he’s worth saving. But the explosions are insufficient, the gunfight is brief and uninteresting, and the president has one dimension ― he’s a dweeb.
As President Montrose, Martin Donovan looks implausibly unattractive for this age in which presidential candidates routinely get botulism injected into their foreheads just to eliminate a couple of pesky wrinkles. His character is at best unexceptional and at worst slimy. Perhaps the make-up artists uglied up Donovan to make Garrison’s affair with the first lady a bit more believable, but when your president’s a creep with a sagging face and a huge mole, the ultimate efforts to save this man become a little less classically heroic.
“Sentinel” isn’t a masterpiece of cinema. But even as a brainless summer action movie, it fails to raise any sort of primitive hormonal reaction. Its enemies are too unclear to be threatning, its fight scenes are silly, there aren’t nearly enough explosions, its violence is less than extreme, there’s no sex, and no one in it is even all that physically attractive. Stay home instead and rent “In the Line of Fire,” “Fourteen Days in May,” “Murder at 1600,” “The Manchurian Candidate” or any other of the infinite entries in this subgenre. And enjoy your lasagna.


The Sentinel
Action / English
108 min.
Opens Thursday


by Ben Applegate

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