• Spinning a dopey plot around the festering rivalry between FBI agent Kiefer Sutherland and Secret Service agent Michael Douglas
• Cramming a whole TV season's worth of twists into 100 minutes, including a torrid affair between Douglas and first lady Kim Basinger
• Squandering the talents of a strong cast and the otherwise smart TV veteran Clark Johnson
Defenders: Director Clark Johnson, screenwriter George Nolfi
Tone of commentary: Likeably chummy. Johnson and Nolfi tease each other and talk politics, and even pull the old should-we-be-spoiling-the-plot? routine. (Johnson to Nolfi: "They're going to go watch the Clint Eastwood Secret Service movie now because of you.") Johnson goes overboard with shots at conservatives, even mentioning that one consultant is "a Republican, but a good guy." But he makes a lot of keen observations about political thrillers, noting, "You think you know the Oval Office, but you really know the West Wing version of the Oval Office."
What went wrong: Johnson may have gone too wonky, getting so involved with the awesomeness of presidential protection that he missed how hackneyed Nolfi's script is. Commenting on his hands-on approach, Johnson says that he's been "a lousy stunt guy, a lousy effects guy, a lousy camera assistant, and a mediocre actor. Just enough to make everyone's life a living hell on the set."
Comments on the cast: After watching his own cameo as a murder victim, Johnson nods to his old Homicide character by muttering, "Poor Meldrick… or whatever the hell my name is in this movie."
Inevitable dash of pretension: Of the voyeuristic handheld cinematography, Johnson says, "The idea that we're always under scrutiny is something I tend to explore." Of the Secret-Service-friendly tone, he says, "I guess if this was a movie about the Okey-Dokey hot-dog man, it would be from his perspective."
Commentary in a nutshell: Johnson, marveling at the courage and convictions of the Secret Service, says, "If I were an agent, I'd have to jump in front of one for George W. God forbid."