When you don't see a review of the movie The Sentinel in the Dallas Observer next week--or any weekly newspaper, for that matter--it's not because we're ignoring it. It's because we aren't allowed to see it: 20th Century Fox, the studio releasing the Michael Douglas-Kiefer Sutherland-Eva Longoria thriller on April 21, doesn't want us to write about it. And by us I do not mean all newspapers; far from it. In fact, there will be reviews of the movie in The Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram a week from Friday; Gary Cogill at WFAA-Channel 8 and his broadcast brethren will get their say too. But those critics will see The Sentinel next Wednesday, the day the Observer and all our Village Voice Media brethren hit the street, which means more than 1.6 million weekly newspaper readers in Dallas, New York, Los Angeles and 14 other major markets will have to look elsewhere for a review of a movie that stars two Oscar winners (Douglas and Kim Basinger) and the stars of two of TV's biggest hits (24's Sutherland and Desperate Housewives' Longoria). And there are dozens of other weeklies, and millions of other readers, in the same sinking boat, as well; it's not just our problem.
Studios are notorious for dumping their horror movies and teen pics and lowbrow gross-out comedies into theaters without advance screenings; it happens all the time, and the trend's increasing exponentially with filler, fluff and critical cannon fodder such as The Benchwarmers, Silent Hill, Scary Movie 4 (which screens tonight), Larry the Cable Guy, Phat Girlz, Stay Alive, Ultraviolet, Underworld Evolution, Madea's Family Reunion and When a Stranger Calls all arriving without advance screenings in recent weeks.
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But this is different. This is Fox forcing millions of readers to look elsewhere for their film criticism. By scheduling the screening specifically to keep weekly critics out, this is Fox keeping weekly film critics from doing our jobs, while allowing our daily colleagues easy access into the front door. This is Fox giving preferential treatment to critics the studios perceive as being "kinder to studio movies," as one publicist told me years ago, when a different studio tried this same thing. (I know a few daily critics who would rightly take offense at that characterization, and I know some who fit the description like a post-office "wanted" poster.) This is Fox telling weekly newspapers, and our readers, to fuck off. --Robert Wilonsky