Sunday, June 24, 2018

On the Border (1998)

Warning: I do vaguely discuss some of the film’s plot twists!

A couple of years after an involvement in a bank heist gone wrong, Jake Barnes (Casper Van Dien) is working as a bank guard in a tiny town on the US side of the US/Mexican border. He’s not leading a boring life, though, because he spends his free time having an affair with Rosa (Rochelle Swanson), the wife of his very sweaty boss Ed (Daniel Baldwin). To make matters more interesting, the couple is planning on ripping off the bank in a couple of days, for while there’s usually little worth the risk of robbing it inside, this coming Saturday, there will be a whole load of mafia money locked up in there.

There are – of course – complications. For one, Ed’s gotten the idea Rosa is indeed cheating on him and wants Jake to find out who it is. As it will turn out, Jake and Rosa aren’t the only ones who want that sweet sweet mafia money, either. One Barry Montana (Bryan Brown), probably the guy for whom the phrase “toxic masculinity” was termed, is rather interested in the money too. Barry sics his private slave Kristen (Camilla Overbye Roos) on Jake to seduce him and convince him to partner up for the robbery.

Jake does realize that Kristen’s supposed to be a honey pot, yet he still feels drawn to her, as she seems to be to him. She does, after all, have a probably perfectly true horrible story about her being sold to Barry to tell, and seems to only want to get away from the arsehole and out of the life. Because that’s not trouble enough for one film, Jake’s former partner in the old heist that worked out very badly indeed, a completely crazy person called Sykes (Bentley Mitchum), is lurking around the plot’s edges, trying to get an angle. And here I thought robbing a bank was easy.

Going by the IMDB, Bob Misiorowski’s sleazy, pulpy little neo noir is a TV movie, though going by the filming style and the rather large amount of nudity and sex in it, it must have been made for HBO, Cinemax, or Showtime. It’s a proper neo noir (though one with a genre-atypical ending), however, the sexy bits not being the only important parts of the film, unlike in the neo noir’s sleazier little sister, the erotic cable TV thriller. There is, however, indeed a lot more sex and nudity in this one than it would strictly need for its plot. It is pretty much equal opportunity nudity, though, so there’s quite a bit of Van Dien’s qualities in addition to the female nudity on display, too.

I suspect one’s liking for On the Border will have a lot to do with one’s tolerance for films that attempt to include basically all the tropes and clichés of a given genre, for broad acting, as well as for Caspar Van Dien’s sex face, the last being not pretty. This is not what anyone would call an intelligently constructed thriller, rather it is one that just heaps complications and plot threads on its poor protagonist, half of which will acquire stupid yet also highly entertaining twist in the final ten minutes. It’s the “throw as much as possible at the audience, logic be damned” approach, something which doesn’t generally end in films that make much sense. But then I’m a bit of a sucker for simple stories made absurdly complicated, as I am for film that wallow in genre tropes as much as this one does. Sometimes, it’s simply enjoyable to watch a dance you know by heart even though its steps are obfuscated by a whole load of weird hand gestures and mumbling.

Even better, Misiorowski actually gets around to twisting some of the genre tropes of the neo noir, sometimes even in fun ways. So the horrible fake accent you roll your eyes over does indeed turn out to be fake, one of the film’s two femme fatales (why have one when you can have to in a film, right?) isn’t actually one, and the film’s solution does use the general way movies tend to side-line their Mexican characters for a little surprise. Now, before anyone thinks too much of these elements, they are still embedded in a whole lot of sleaze and violence. As I like it.

It would be terribly remiss of me if I ended this without mentioning On the Border’s fine bunch of caricature villains. I can’t imagine living a life where one wouldn’t enjoy a pretty paunchy Daniel Baldwin sweating and being sleazy towards his wife and prostitutes and babbling nonsense about simple being stupid. Or Bryan Brown’s lovely portrayal of a perfect caricature of a vile man (without the Australian accent, I’d put a Trump joke right here). Or how Bentley Mitchum’s minor villain is all twitchiness, verbal tics and drug-fuelled craziness, just one step away from becoming a circus geek.

On the Border is the neo noir interpreted as a sleazy, fun low budget movie, and even though that is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, it sure is mine.

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