Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Last Sentinel

"Did your rifle just talk to me?"
-Girl played by Katee Sackhoff-

Way back in 2007 the then SCI-FI Channel aired one of those strange, off beat, unexpected little sci-fi evening films that generally fail to impress, but sort of pass the time for fans of science fiction hoping to stumble across a nice surprise. That film for the occasion was The Last Sentinel (2007). It was a bizarre little odyssey, (or was it the medication?), and what little I saw of it left enough of an impression that I wanted to see it in full one day.

Most of all the film also included blonde-haired bomb shell Katee Sackhoff who was equally busy elsewhere on Ronald D. Moore's reimagined Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009) playing the rough and tumble female reincarnation of Starbuck.

The excruciatingly gorgeous, just my opinion, Sackhoff was something of a lightning rod of discussion one morning at work around the water cooler. Was she hot? Was she not? I professed a clear declaration that, butch or not, Starbuck was the bomb. She was an understated, underrated hottie of epic-sized sci-fi proportions. Many a testosterone-driven male begged to differ with me. For them she just didn't cut the mustard. Are you kidding me? To each their own. She's got all of it going on. I love Katee Sackhoff. Heck, I rented (from the library thankfully) the ever so average Riddick (2013) just to get my latest fill of Sackhoff. Perhaps Sackhoff is an acquired taste. Why isn't she bigger (not like that) in television and film? I mean, she is to science fiction for me what Claire Danes has been for me to Homeland (2011-present)---a beautiful, untamed warrior. Nevertheless, Sackhoff has been a fixture and built a sizable resume.

White Noise 2 or White Noise: The Light (2007) arrived the same year as The Last Sentinel (she was busy) in a co-starring role opposite Firefly's (2002) Nathan Fillion. That was like a twofer. It was a two birds with one stone science fiction fix.

I was thrilled Sackhoff would add to the reimagined Bionic Woman (2007), of which she referred to as a "clusterfrak," also launching about the time of The Last Sentinel. But really were any of these films or series any good?

Given my love for Sackhoff as an underrated babe amongst babes I really have no excuse for not checking out Longmire (2012-present) if I profess to be such a Sackhoff advocate. I have since rectified my omissions on the latter.

But for all intents and purposes of our focus here today we'll close in on The Last Sentinel. Yes, the day had finally come to revisit a film I missed in its original release. But had I really missed anything at all?

For The Last Sentinel our Girl among girls, Katee Sackhoff, plays the ultimate Girl. That's right her character is simply noted as the Girl and Sackhoff is indeed all that. Given how simple this little film exercise was, Girl does seem entirely appropriate and rather fitting. This is not, after all, intelligent science fiction that need have memorable names.

To make matters worse for a Sackhoff sucker like myself the cover art for the Blu-Ray release of The Last Sentinel spotlights Sackhoff as the star of the film, but is she really the star? Or was she merely utilized as red meat for an unsuspecting male populace to fall prey and sell this film? Further, was this film worth selling?

Impact Movie Magazine was more than happy to put its reputation on the line referring to The Last Sentinel as a movie that "bring[s] back the feel of Black Hawk Down and Saving Private Ryan...." Really? Seriously? That's very high praise. Those are two of my favorite war films. Truth be told, The Last Sentinel is hardly a film steeped in the realism or realities of war time.

Well, it was about time I unwrapped my copy of The Last Sentinel to see it all for myself. I spent four dollars (less than an actual trip to the theatre) but would two hot cups of coffee have been better? The fact is there are films that age well, films that don't age well and films that are just plain bad from the start that simply can't be fixed. You can't fix stupid and you can't fix bad after post production. Where does The Last Sentinel fall?

Initial impressions on The Last Sentinel are good. It has an odd little edge too it. It has a weird apocalyptic vibe playing off a future where artificial intelligence speaks freely from a variety of weaponry left by the dead. The mood and atmosphere is solid and the movie wisely steers clear of any kind of reliance on cheesy computer effects, so popular with today's SyFy channel films, but rather embraces more practical effects work and staging.

Dependable, trusty and solid actor Keith David (The Thing, They Live) lends his voice to the proceedings, but sadly all of this is not enough. He was terrific in The Thing (1982), but there's no saving this thing. The Last Sentinel simply isn't that good.

Civilization has been wiped out following an assault by drone police. All that seems to remain is a technologically advanced super soldier or E700 special brigade shock trooper or last sentinel named Tallis. But can eleven time kickboxing world champion turned actor Don "The Dragon" Wilson (a dead ringer look-a-like to Lou Diamond Phillips) be enough?

Tallis' gun, Smartscope Angel 11020, notes, he is "electronically enhanced---not a cyborg---he has a nano transmitter relay device in his eye otherwise he is human. Drones are biomechanical replicates." Tallis is alleged to share more in common with drones than humans. Tallis' eye transmitter relays information to his artificially intelligent weapon. If he dies, it dies. As Tallis notes, "I'm the last of my squad alive. We were built to kill or be killed."

There is a considerable amount of action but the war against the drone police is generally chaotic, noisy and pointless. The drone police themselves are unimpressive in their poor designs---like something from a bad 1980s music video. The drone police are poor shots and impressively dim witted things (though allegedly they have evolved---like Cylons).

It all may be enough for the brain dead action fans that seem to populate cinema houses like rabbits nowadays, but not for science fiction fans with a heart and soul. How these two characters, Tallis and Girl, never die is something of a wonder given some relatively poor tactical decisions. Running down a street in the wide open doesn't seem like a real smart idea for starters.

A character-centric story The Last Sentinel is not. When it does slow down for character exchanges between Wilson and Sackhoff it becomes mildly interesting. And these simple ideas could have been explored along the lines of something like The Omega Man (1971) with Charlton Heston. It could have learned a lot from director Boris Sagal's approach to a simple post-apocalyptic idea. But it's never a good sign when the lead character isn't human and the one female intended to inject humanity is essentially nameless.

This is a mind-numbing little actioner infused with a touch of Wilson's love for martial arts at best. While the effects work are a cut above most SyFy films, and that's hardly saying much at all, this much less Black Hawk Down (2001) and a bit like a rejected script for Doctor Who. But hey, you get to watch Sackhoff bathe partially naked. There's that for a plus. Still, that's not enough.

The Last Sentinel is a gritty enough actioner for zombies but it's all rather pointless, plotless nonsense. There is very little thought given to the story and the cast has little acting to do and no character arc. We simply don't care.

So this does not "feel" like Saving Private Ryan (1998) or Black Hawk Down---no way! That's positively laughable.

To each their own but I wouldn't put a lot of stock in positive reviews of The Last Sentinel like the blurbs supplied from Impact Movie Magazine. That's a hard sell even for those with great patience or a lot of time on their hands.

Some standard sci-fi concepts are in play. Soldiers utilize an embedded, implanted eye relay to communicate with their artificially intelligent weapons. The eye implants are removed like dog tags and individuals can live on to a degree. A similar idea was explored to better effect in Doctor Who, Series 4, Silence In The Library and Forest Of The Dead. But super soldiers and a drone apocalypse are general backdrop ideas for a whole lot of mayhem and not enough intelligent science fiction. That's the reality here. Should I be surprised? Not really. Avoid unless you really like Katee.

I guess this leaves you wondering if I regret the two coffees. Well, I really enjoy good coffee, but it's hard not to enjoy a half-naked Katee Sackhoff. Damn it's a close call. And Katee, I forgive you.

Here, I saved you the trouble. I do what I can.
This is one of the more amusing moments, but please don't get too excited.
"From the director of the smash hit Pit Fighter"--- Wait! What! I've never heard of it!

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