"The Sentinel": An oft-told tale, often better elsewhere

One thing you can always expect in a Michael Douglas movie: The man is, for reasons not always entirely apparent, a babe magnet. In the competent but uninspired thriller "The Sentinel," he plays longtime Secret Service agent Pete Garrison, a man despised by his colleague David Breckinridge (Kiefer Sutherland) for a suspected past affair with Breckinridge's now ex-wife.

In truth, Garrison's busy steaming up the sheets with the first lady (Kim Basinger, looking like far too much of a femme fatale for the White House), which complicates things when he gets wind of a possible plot to assassinate the president (David Rasche) — spearheaded by someone on the inside. And when an attractive rookie Secret Service agent (Eva Longoria) joins the investigation, you start wondering how Garrison will manage to fit her in on his already-crowded day planner.

Movie review 2 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"The Sentinel," with Michael Douglas, Kiefer Sutherland, Eva Longoria, Kim Basinger, Martin Donovan. Directed by Clark Johnson, from a screenplay by George Nolfi, based on the novel by Gerald Petievich. 105 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some intense action violence and a scene of sensuality. Several theaters.

Thankfully, "The Sentinel" doesn't go there; where it does go is a fairly by-the-numbers route through shootings, framings, diabolical plots and lots of dark-suited Secret Service types talking frantically into their shirt cuffs. (Watch closely, and you'll figure out pretty early who the bad seed is.)

Despite a tacky moment early on, where Longoria is introduced with a leering shot of her fully clothed rear end, director Clark Johnson gives the movie a taut pace. But it all feels like a story that's been told before, and better.

Oddly, "The Sentinel" is one of two films opening this week with planned presidential assassinations as a key plot point. The other, "American Dreamz," is a satire that attempts too much; this film is a dour drama that attempts too little. In their aftermath, I found myself wondering dazedly whether a little cross-pollination might have helped both films. Longoria, a gifted comedian whose talents are mostly wasted here, might have been more at home trading saucy remarks with Hugh Grant, and perhaps Mandy Moore, chatting perkily into her wrist, might have livened Douglas up a bit.

Then again, considering Douglas' track record, maybe that movie's coming up.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com