Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Sentinel

I don't mind bad movies. Making a good movie is very hard to do. Look at the filmographies of even the most talented directors and you'll see a bunch of duds next to the gems. Making a movie, Walter Murch once said, is like playing a game of negative 20 questions. Even if everyone playing is at the top of their game, sometimes the movie is just going to fail. Nothing wrong with that.

What annoys me are incompetently-made movies. Movies so sloppily thrown together that not only does the director wind up with big structural problems, but he can't even be bothered to get the small things right. The Sentinel is the most incompetently-made movie I've seen since Fantastic Four.

The plot is promising enough: There's a mole inside the Secret Service who's trying to kill the president. A respected agent (Michael Douglas) is being set up to take the fall, but he's innocent. An agent who's his protégé (Kiefer Sutherland) is charged with running the mole-hunt. And the protégé has a really hot new rookie agent sidekick (Eva Longoria). Go ahead and watch the trailer--looks okay, right?

Here are a couple of the structural problems:

* When we do finally meet the Bad Guys, we're never told why in the world they want to kill the president.

* When we finally find the mole, we have no idea why he's working for the Bad Guys.

But much more maddening are the movie's mundane failings:

* When Michael Douglas's character goes on the lam, we get a scene were he goes into a hardware store and buys a bunch of MacGuyver-esque items: Krazy Glue, WD-40, etc. He never uses any of them.

* The Bad Guys are a bunch of former KGB agents. The lead KGB agent has a cockney English accent.

* A scene between the mole and the British KGB agent begins in a bar where a waitress comes over and drops off a glass of beer. We see this in a master shot. Cut to coverage of KGBrit ordering "a pint" of beer. Cut to a master shot of the waitress saying, "Yes sir" as she removes an empty beer glass from in front of KGBrit as he and the mole resume their conversation.

* During the movie's coda, Michael Douglas's character is given a large, embarrassing retirement gift as he leaves the Secret Service office. His co-workers laugh as he asks how he's supposed to walk out of the White House with this gift. He shrugs good-naturedly and heads to the elevator. Cut to the exterior of the White House where Douglas bumps into Sutherland and Eva Longoria. The embarrassing gift is nowhere to be seen.

There are niggling mistakes but they're so obvious and sloppy that they become a little insulting to the audience. Everyone should be forgiven the stray shadow from a boom-mike. But to intentionally include unnecessary scenes that are botched is different. It's as if the filmmakers were declaring that they don't really care.

The Sentinel is directed by Clark Johnson, who you probably remember from his time on Homicide as Det. Meldrick Lewis. Johnson's a wonderful actor. Perhaps there were outside forces conspiring to push the movie out the door before he was finished with it. But even so, The Sentinel is the type of movie that makes you weep for modern Hollywood.


Bizarro Jack said...

I wouldn't mention it, but it's not a very common phrase in the first place -- that's "on the lam."

Anonymous said...

It is actually "lamb", as I recall from the Simpsons, when Grampa Simpson says:
"Call me mint jelly, 'cause I'm on the lamb".
Ha Ha

Reel Fanatic said...

Good review .. this just looks like an unintended satire of "24" to me, which I have no desire to see

jjv said...

Jonathan those are not plot holes. I take your points seriatim:

1. They want to kill the President because they are "the BAD GUYS."

2. He/She's working for them b/c she's A BAD GUY.

3. So what? You never failed to use something you picked up at the store?

4. Kim Philby was an agent of the Soviet Union. He and his comrades all had British accents. When it got hot they went to the Motherland. Their kids all talked like the parents. Thus, cockney KGB agents.

5. He drinks with lightning rapidity because he may be forced to flee at any moment of his existence.

6. He dumped it because it was embarrasing. You think the White House isn't going to get rid of it? Its a brilliant move by a savvy old operator.

Anonymous said...

Was there a reason the bad guy (mole) was meant to be so obvious. I knew who it was the first time I saw the actor's face; type-casting to me.

Anonymous said...

jjv: As for your explanation of point # 4, the Cambridge Five were neither Cockney nor heterosexual.