How much action is too much action? Consider "The Last Sentinel," a B-grade sci-fi shoot-'em-up sure to please those who complain about too much story and not enough bang. Genre fans will get more than their money's worth, and yet the action hits a saturation point, and then plows forward well beyond that. It becomes a matter of way, way, way too much. Gunplay? You're soaking in it!
"Sentinel" premiered on the Sci-Fi Channel in May this year, although it appears to not have been made expressly for the network. Which may explain why it's slightly sharper than most of that channel's infamous schlock - but only slightly. It still suffers the same fate as most of the Sci-Fi output: shaky, undercooked story; one-dimensional characters; thrills that barely arrive on time, if ever.
Don Wilson (no longer being credited as "The Dragon") stars as Tallis, a genetically- and cybernetically-enhanced super-soldier, raised from childhood to be a warrior. We first meet him in the post-war ruins of a city (actually a Universal back lot with two wrecked cars and some litter) that lies shattered after police robots called "drones" overthrew their human masters. Tallis wanders the streets as a scavenger, content to barely survive, so long as he avoids the remaining battles that trickle in from time to time.
His only companion is a talking gun named Angel (Dawnn Lewis), an intriguing concept. Granted, Angel exists mainly to toss exposition our way - her opening lines sound like narration, not dialogue, and later, she's constantly updating Tallis on historical information he already knows (but we don't). But it's still a nifty concept, giving the picture something of a "Boy and His Dog" vibe. And Wilson, who is starting to reach cragginess of Eastwoodian proportions as he ages, displays the right kind of world-weariness for the role of a soldier without a platoon. Sure, the character borrows liberally from a dozen other flicks (even those as mediocre as the Kurt Russell flop "Soldier"), but hey, the B-movie feel and the lost-soul tone make up for the theft.
The plot (such as it is) kicks into gear when a battle between drones and human rebels blasts across Tallis' path. A rough, unnamed female soldier (Katee Sackoff) is left for dead in the aftermath, and Tallis takes her to his hideout, bringing her back to life. As they spend time together, Tallis realizes it's time to stop hiding and start fighting, and he agrees to join her in her plans to infiltrate and destroy enemy headquarters. But first, of course, she must be trained. (Montage alert!) And then, of course, there must be a love scene. And so on.
It's all ably acted - the appearance of Bokeen Woodbine and Keith David in flashbacks (David also voices another talking gun) help round out a thoroughly watchable cast - and writer/director Jesse Johnson displays a knack for handling large scale action sequences on a tight budget. (His previous effort, "Pit Fighter," has become a minor cult favorite for its ably crafted action, although I have not seen it.) Even when the plot grows far too tiresome, Johnson keeps the energy high throughout.
But it remains very difficult to stay tuned in to the adventure. Johnson overloads us with battles - flashbacks pile up so high they weigh down the entire project, seemingly unending gunfights and military maneuvers. And guns. Sweet lordy, the guns. "Sentinel" is gun porn, with all its attention given to the oversized, tricked-out weaponry on display. Of course the guns talk; they're the most fleshed-out characters in the movie. They're the centerpiece.
And they're boring. Johnson may crank up the energy, but the rest is overkill. The movie is 95% shoot-out. And ultimately, that's about 85% too much.
Video & Audio
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks fairly decent for a low budget film with an intentionally gritty look. (If it's not intentional, it sure fits the feel of the piece.) Colors are a bit subdued, but again, that fits.
The soundtrack booms nicely in Dolby 5.1, which blares the gun-heavy sound effects without overdoing it. A Dolby 2.0 track is more subdued and a bit on the flat side. No subtitles are provided.
A commentary track from Johnson and producer Bill J. Gottleib isn't much of anything; they waste too much time with looooong gaps in the conversation, only to pop up with a brief "oh, we shot this on the Universal back lot," then back to silence. The movie's audio remains muted throughout the commentary, so you can't even enjoy the movie when you're waiting for the duo to pipe up.
"The Making of The Last Sentinel" (15:45) is equally unimpressive, with assorted behind-the-scenes shots padding out the random on-set interview with cast and crew. Considering its healthy running time, you'd think they could have squeezed in some more information. Presented in 1.33:1 full frame, with film clips properly letterboxed.
A set of previews is also included. Strangely, the audio set-up is located within the extras menu.
Hardcore action fans with an admiration for low budget thrills should Rent It as they're sure to get a kick out of the battle sequences, although a heavy thumb on the fast forward button will surely help you along.