1993's In the Line of Fire starred Clint Eastwood as an aging U.S. Secret Service agent who must thwart the assassination of the President. That same year also saw Harrison Ford in the cinematic adaptation of The Fugitive, where an innocent man tries to prove his innocence while pursued by a methodical lawman. Smoosh the two together and you have this cookie cutter conspiracy thriller. While there's nothing wrong with revisiting familiar material, The Sentinel struggles with execution.
Michael Douglas (absent from the screen since 2003's The In-Laws) is Pete Garrison, a respected Secret Service agent who stepped between John Hinckley Jr.'s gunfire and President Regan twenty-five years ago. Today he heads the team that protects First Lady Sarah Ballentine (Kim Basinger). After a colleague (director Clark Johnson) is murdered before he can privately share important information with Garrison, the investigative division of the Secret Service steps in, led by top agent David Breckinridge (Kiefer Sutherland of television's 24). Garrison then receives a tip from his favorite snitch: the Secret Service has a mole masterminding a plan to assassinate President Ballentine (David Rasche from television's Sledge Hammer).
Complicating matters further are the relationships between these characters. Breckinridge was once Garrison's friend and protégé, but the two recently had a falling out after Breckinridge suspected Garrison was having an affair with his wife. He's mistaken—Garrison is instead sleeping with the First Lady whenever the two can discreetly slip away to the Presidential retreat without suspicion.
It's this shameful secret that causes Garrison to fail the office polygraph test and thus become the chief suspect in the assassination plot he's trying to foil. Rather than talk it over in custody, he goes on the run and relies on his years of experience as a Secret Service agent to uncover the mole himself while also evading Breckenridge and his assistant Jill Marin (Eva Longoria of television's Desperate Housewives), who studied under Garrison at the Academy.
Yes, The Sentinel is as soapy as it sounds, derailing the suspense, mystery, and action needed to drive a film like this. As much as people may want to see Douglas and Sutherland interact and outwit each other, the film confuses acting together with yelling at each other. See, Breckinridge is by-the-books procedural and bases all his decisions on evidence, while Garrison follows his instincts to make snap decisions. Oh, and then they've got that whole affair thing between them too.
The actors are simply going through the motions here. Garrison is a variation on the same character Douglas has been playing for the last fifteen years—the intense hero struggling to overcome his sins. Though Sutherland is "playing by the rules" this time, he's still in full Jack Bauer mode, following the evidence but still making some hasty leaps in logic; you'd think the actor would want to try something different in his time off from 24. Meanwhile, Longoria's character merely exists as clichéd eye candy—the plucky feminine agent on her first field assignment after graduating second in her class at the Academy.