Falsely accused?of being a good movie

By and

“The Sentinel”20th Century FoxDirected by Clark JohnsonWritten by George Nolfi, based on the novel by Gerald PetievichStarring: Michael Douglas, Kiefer Sutherland, Eva Longoria, Martin Donovan and Kim BasingerRated PG-13/108 minutesOpened April 21, 2006Two-and-a-half out of four stars

Clark Johnson’s “The Sentinel” is a conspiracy thriller without a decent conspiracy. Michael Douglas, having spent a large chunk of his career snooping around in labyrinthine who-dunnits, must have felt like a change of pace if he agreed to act in and produce this oddly straightforward film.

Douglas stars as Pete Garrison, a loyal and respected secret service agent who is on the run after being falsely accused of plotting to assassinate the president.

“Falsely” accused, I say? Well, of course he’s innocent-the casting and the plotting do all the brainwork for us. Some actors elicit our sympathy merely by showing up, such as Harrison Ford, that pillar of gruff nobility. Douglas, with his slicked-back, white-collared charm, is the embodiment of the victimized, corporate pawn, always at the mercy of a higher order.

In “The Sentinel,” he’s pursued by fellow agent and former best friend David Breckinridge, played by Kiefer Sutherland with all the frowns and none of the balls of his stalwart “24” character, Jack Bauer. He has a personal bone to pick with Pete in one of several underdeveloped sub-plots.

One plot in particular-involving a love affair between Pete and a very important lady-would make an explosive movie all on its own, but it’s pushed aside in favor of chase scenes that simply burn time.

The satisfaction of most thrillers comes in that moment when the audience is given the last, big puzzle piece and we click it into place. “The Sentinel” lays all the pieces for us, arbitrarily revealing a foolish assassination plot without any kind of visible exit strategy for the bad guys involved.

All of this is crisply edited, with convincing sets and convincing performances. The director, Clark Johnson, knows his way around political and criminal intrigue, having shot episodes of “The Shield” and “The West Wing.” Here he’s hurt by an under-plotted script by George Nolfi that thinly defines its characters and then runs them through a maze of surprising ease.

A whole season of “24” could be made with the starting-kit pieces on display in “The Sentinel.” I would watch that long before I’d ever watch this movie again.