Last Border, The

Toronto Festival–Sept. 12, 1993Directed by Mika Kaursimaki, 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 subject matter. Nonetheless, impressive visual design and strong performances by Matti Pellonpaa (Night on Earth, La Vie de Boheme) and Jurgen Prochnow (Das Boot), should broaden satire's commercial prospects beyond the midnight movie circuit.

Narrative is set in 2009, in the desolate near-future, when toxic waste has pushed the remaining civilization to the cold and icy Arctic Circle. The place is now terrorizes by a band of motorcycle cutthroats, led by Duke (Jurgen Prochnow), who round up rebellious guerrilla and sell them to the dictatorial military government.

Yarn 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 (Matti Pellonopaa), a longhaired 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 Matti Pellonopaa.

This 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, a woman who has mysteriously lost her memory, gives new meaning to romanticism.

Jolyon Baker is not as sexy or handsome as Mel Gibson, but his voice is similar, creating the desired double effect of enjoying 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, who sacrifices his life.

The ambience of The Last Border is just as weird and the characters just as eccentric as those of George Miller's landmark actioners of the l980s. The production values, particularly Timo Salminen's dark lensing of the open, uninhabited vistas, are polished.

Overall, however, the picture 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.