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'The Sentinel'

Like last year's UN thriller "The Interpreter," "The Sentinel" fashions itself as a throwback to the old-school political thrillers of the 1970s, revolving as it does around treaty negotiations, thorny complications within federal agencies, and a threat to the life of a world leader.

In this case, the world leader is none other than the President of the United States, whose life is in danger, apparently, from one of his own Secret Service detail. And when the evidence starts to implicate veteran agent Pete Garrison (Michael Douglas), all he can do is try to stay ahead of the pin and find the real mole before zero hour.

Naturally, it's not as easy as it sounds, since Pete has a nest of personal connections he must now re-evaluate: Can he trust the agent investigating him (Kiefer Sutherland)? The agent's new assistant (Eva Longoria), whom Pete trained at the academy? How about the First Lady (Kim Basinger), who's been his personal responsibility for eight months?

"The Sentinel" would have been better if George Nolfi's script had really explored those questions, instead of abandoning them an hour into the story for a string of familiar chases and espionage babble. The movie's first half is an engaging and intelligent look behind the scenes of a White House under pressure, and it gives us a series of sideways glances at the grim relationships that form among professionals who live their lives fully expecting to take a bullet someday. But then Douglas gets all actiony, and the character stuff is abandoned.

Thanks to Clark Johnson's muscular direction -- and his refreshing insistence on letting Toronto play Toronto for a change, hosting a G8 summit -- the second half of the film never gets dull, exactly, but it is awfully familiar. And what's really remarkable is that a director as encouraging of actors as Johnson has been in the past (on shows like "Homicide," "The Wire" and "The West Wing," and the "S.W.A.T." movie) can't get anything new out of this cast.

Foxs' enhanced-widescreen DVD supports the feature with lively audio commentary by director Johnson and screenwriter Nolfi; five deleted scenes, including an alternate ending, also with optional Nolfi commentary, and two production featurettes about the production's dedication to honoring the proud legacy of the Secret Service. Pretty ironic, considering the movie's plot, but still.

STUDIO: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: August 29, 2006
RATING: PG-13
PRICE: $29.98
TIME: 108 minutes
DVD EXTRAS: French and Spanish audio dubs; English and Spanish subtitles; audio commentary; deleted scenes; production featurettes.
INTERNET SITE: www.thesentineldvd.com

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