Directed by Mika Kaurismaki, the older but less famous brother of Aki Kaurismaki, “The Last Border” is a rare film — a spoof of the “Mad Max” cult films that also works as a futuristic adventure in its own right. Subtle humor and moderate violence (by today’s standards) may disappoint viewers expecting excessive treatment of such matters. Nonetheless, impressive visual design and strong perfs by Matti Pellonopaa and Jurgen Prochnow could broaden satire’s commercial prospects beyond the midnight circuit.
Narrative is set in the desolate near-future of 2009, when toxic waste has pushed the remaining civilization to the frigid Arctic Circle. The place is terrorized by a band of motorcycle cutthroats, led by Duke (Prochnow), who round up rebellious guerrillas and sell them to the dictatorial military government.
Pic begins when Jake (Jolyon Baker), an escaped army prisoner, is captured by Duke’s men, but then manages to escape. Running away, Jake encounters and rescues Dimitri (Pellonopaa), a long-haired peddler whose motorcycle and trailer have crashed. To reciprocate, Dimitri blasts Jake’s handcuffs with a blunderbuss and sets him free. Every once in a while, Dimitri, a Santa Claus figure, reappears, endowing the tale with his comic and humanistic persona, magnificently embodied by Pellonopaa.
Spoof actioner is decorated with a “love story” of sorts between Jake and a tough female prisoner (Fanny Bastien), who also escaped from Duke’s camp. The unconventional courtship of Jake and Doavia, who has mysteriously lost her memory, gives new meaning to romanticism.
Baker is not as sexy or handsome as Mel Gibson, but his voice is similar, creating the double effect of spotlighting his acting and at the same time relating to Gibson’s Mad Max. Kari Vaananen also excels as Borka, a mute, 30 -year-old lunatic.
The ambience here is just as weird and the characters just as eccentric as those of George Miller’s landmark 1980s actioners. The production values, particularly Timo Salminen’s dark lensing of the open, uninhabited vistas, are polished.
Overall, however, pic lacks the kinetic energy, astounding stunt work and exhilarating motorcycle chases of the “Mad Max” trilogy. The climactic fight between Jake and Duke is too leisurely paced and not rousing enough. At the end, an old woman’s prophecy of revenge against Duke, which began the story, is fulfilled — a flashback to Jake’s childhood explains the motivation for his vengeance.
Though not as uniquely inventive as his brother Aki’s movies, Mika Kaurismaki’s “The Last Border” still stands at the forefront of a burgeoning new wave of Finnish cinema.