Last Man Running

Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 06/27/03 16:06:01

"Struggling Male Actors & Demolition Derbys - A Perfect Fit"
5 stars (Awesome)

SCREENED AT THE 2003 CINEVEGAS FILM FESTIVAL: Is the car crash the ultimate act of male machismo? Certainly we all love it to the point of becoming a cliché for what’s wrong with Hollywood films. Insert a car crash to spice up the narrative almost like thrusting in a penis in hopes of getting a shot of adrenaline. In turn the car chase is like the ultimate foreplay to a culmination of extreme pleasure. It’s a guy thing and maybe women shouldn’t try to understand it. When 71% of men experience a “life-changing panic” in the months before marriage, women unfortunately have to chalk it up to one of those relationship quirks that needs to play itself out. When that LCP turns out to be the dream of becoming a demolition derby driver, what’s a guy to do?

The question is answered in this wonderfully quirky part-fiction/part-documentary created by actor Rick Gomez (Band of Brothers) and director Damon Santostefano. Rick plays himself, a struggling actor whose current livelihood is depending on the airing of a television commercial he participated in. With the job market closed up, his impending nuptials to the ever-understanding Jenifer (Jenifer Wymore), are about to be tested when he decides to pursue that childhood dream. How innocent a show could “Happy Days” be when wannabe Fonzies across America took some of his stunts to heart? Thank God Rick didn’t have a motorcycle and a couple of sharks.

Recruiting his brother Josh Gomez, who secures a car through a poker game with a very sore loser, Rick takes to entering the Demolition world with assistance from Derby legend, Bob “Whiplash” Genovese. Fact and fiction quickly combine as we’re taken on a tour of this sub-culture. From reconstructing the cars to meeting the people (with names likes Painkiller, Metaldeath & Bone Smuggler) to getting a general understanding of how the sport is conducted, Last Man Running attains on a documentary-side what few are able to accomplish successfully. We’ve been introduced into homes and worlds before, but usually only to show us glimpses and then inundate with talking heads and statistics. Santostefano and Gomez lay the groundwork and then pull us in, so we have a complete awareness by the time the first race is flagged.

The fictional aspect could naturally prove to be a distraction, since reality is usually more fascinating than anything on the page of a writer or in the mind of an improviser. But the story they have to tell puts us in the same enjoyable territory of Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries. We’re laughing at the outlandish behavior, but we actually care about the outcome. The derbys are real and dangerous. (when the doctor looks at Rick’s x-rays and says “wow”, you get the picture); each one building our fascination and enticing us towards the climactic school bus destructions. Rick’s cash-strapped plight leads to humorous complications with living conditions and a pathetic attempt to temporarily square himself with his mentor/competitor/mechanic Whiplash. All for a final prize of a mere $500.

Last Man Running is far more than just a film about demolition derbys. It’s a portrait of the male bravado in overdrive entering a mid-life crisis too early. It’s an anthem for struggling actors everywhere in tune with their labor and unwavering desire to live the dream and never give up. It’s also an underdog tale that refuses to adhere to the conventional clichés and outperforms the routine patterns of your average sports movie. It’s also very funny, seamlessly told and a great piece of entertainment for anyone open to new experiences. And more than a few car crashes can’t hurt either.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.