The Things You Find on Netflix: The Stand at Paxton County (dir by Brett Hedlund)


The Stand at Paxton County, which is currently playing on Netflix, opens with an ominous title card warning us that what we’re about to see is “based on a true story.”

I may be alone in this but I find the term “based on a true story” to be fascinating.  It’s signifies that the film that we’re about to watch was inspired by something that actually happened but it’s not actually a recreation of that event.  It’s an invitation to watch and to try to figure out how much is true and how much is just a product of a screenwriter’s imagination.  “Based on a true story” is a real cinematic tease.

The Stand at Paxton County tells the story of Janna Connelly (Jacqueline Toboni), an army medic who is still haunted by her memories of serving in Afghanistan.  When her rancher father, Dell (Michael O’Neill), has a heart attack, Janna returns home to Paxton County, North Dakota.  What she discovers is that, after she left home, the ranch fell into disrepair.  Dell only has one ranch hand, a seemingly amiable doofus named Brock (Greg Perrow) and it doesn’t appear that Brock’s been doing a very good job.

When Sheriff Bostwick (Christopher McDonald) shows up to do a compliance check on the ranch, he finds a lot of problems.  When he returns with a cold-eyed veterinarian named Dr. Morel (Marwa Bernstein), Dell is informed that his ranch is in such disrepair that the sheriff can take away his livestock and essentially put Dell out of business!

How can the sheriff get away with this, Janna asks.  Dell explains that, years ago, the voters of the state voted down a proposition that would have given law enforcement the right to confiscate a rancher’s livestock.  However, a bunch of unelected lobbyists and left-wing activists went ahead and forced the law through the state legislature!  Now, the sheriff can pretty much do whatever he wants and anyone who tries to stand up for their Constitutional rights is subject to harassment and perhaps even murder!

While all of this is going on, Brock vanishes from the ranch.  It turns out that Brock is a professional bad employee who goes from ranch to ranch and goes out of his way to mess things up so that the ranchers lose their livestock.  The livestock is then sold to the highest bidder or sometimes the sheriff will just keep a horse for himself.  With Brock gone, Janna hires sexy Matt (Tyler Jacob Moore) to be the new ranch hand and then sets out to get justice for her father.

I had mixed feelings about The Stand at Paxton County.  On the one hand, I’m not a fan of the government regulation in general and I’m always happy to watch a libertarian-themed film.  Christopher McDonald’s smug and corrupt sheriff felt like a stand-in for all of the authoritarian-minded politicians and bureaucrats who have recently come out of the woodwork and used the COVID-19 pandemic to increase their own power.  (“Hey, it’s Clay Jenkins!” I said as soon as the sheriff showed up.)  So, on that level, I enjoyed the film.

Unfortunately, The Stand at Paxton County doesn’t just stick to criticizing the government for overstepping their authority.  Instead, it also portrays animal rights activists as being a part of a sinister financial conspiracy and that’s where it lost me.  It’s a lot easier to buy into the idea of a corrupt sheriff than it is to imagine the head of the PSCA sitting in a darkened war room and ordering his minions to torment one rancher, all so he can resell the rancher’s livestock.  That doesn’t mean that activists should be immune from criticism or that there isn’t a legitimate argument to be made that even well-intentioned regulations are vulnerable to abuse.  But the film’s portrayal of its central conspiracy just got a bit too cartoonish to be effective.  Once the villains went from being smug to being downright evil, it became impossible to take the movie seriously.  If the film had simply stuck to criticizing government overreach instead of imagining a shadowy conspiracy, it would have been a lot more effective.

The Stand at Paxton County has some lovely shots of the North Dakota countryside and Christopher McDonald is a wonderfully smarmy villain.  I always appreciate a film that has an anti-authoritarian subtext but The Stand At Paxton County is ultimately dragged down by its own heavy hand.

Most Wanted (1997, directed by David Hogan)


James Dunn (Keenan Ivory Wayans) is an army sergeant with a talent for getting framed for crimes that he didn’t commit.

During the Gulf War, Dunn’s superior officer orders Dunn to shoot a shepherd boy.  Dunn refuses and, when the two men get into a fight over a gun, his commanding officer is accidentally shot and killed.  The army refuses to listen to Dunn’s explanation.  He’s convinced of murder and sentenced to death.  However, while Dunn is on his way to Leavenworth, he is rescued by Col. Casey (Jon Voight).  Casey explains that he is giving Dunn a chance to join a super secret vigilante group that targets evil doers.  Yes, Dunn will be expected to assassinate people but they’ll all be bad.  With no other options available to him, Dunn agrees to work for Casey.

Dunn’s first target is the corrupt owner of a pharmaceutical company (played by Robert Culp) but — surprise — it turns out that the target was actually the First Lady and that the entire plan was to set up Dunn as a patsy!  Now a “most wanted” fugitive, Dunn is forced to go on the run with a doctor (Jill Hennessy) who recorded the assassination with a camcorder.  (Remember, Most Wanted was made during the days of the landline phones.)  With Casey and his second-in-command (played by Wolfgang Bodison) determined to kill him and with only Paul Sorvino (as the head of the FBI) doubting the official story, Dunn has to find a way to reveal the truth.

Though he was subsequently overshadowed by his brothers, Damon and Marlon, Keenan Ivory Wayans was a really big deal in the 90s.  As the man behind In Living Color, he proved that black comedians and writers could be just as funny (and, in many cases, funnier) than their white counterparts over at Saturday Night Live.  It can be argued Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, David Alan Grier, and Jennifer Lopez would not have the careers that they have today if not for Keenan Ivory Wayans.  (All of them first found fame as members of the In Living Color ensemble, Carrey, Foxx, and Grier as cast members and Lopez as a “fly girl.”)  Most Wanted was Wayans attempt to transform himself into an action hero (perhaps not coincidentally, a year before Most Wanted was released, Damon Wayans had a minor hit with Bulletproof).

Keenan Ivory Wayans not only starred in Most Wanted but he also wrote the script and it’s interesting just how straight the action is played.  It would be natural to expect Wayans to turn the movie into a spoof but there’s little intentional humor to be found in Most Wanted.  Most Wanted takes itself seriously and the end result is an adequate but hardly memorable action movie, with Wayans jumping off of buildings and fighting off the bad guys.  The action scenes are well-shot if not particularly imaginative but, unfortunately, Wayans doesn’t really have the screen presence necessary to be a believable action hero.  Both the character of James Dunn and Wayans’s performance are just too bland to really be compelling.  Far more interesting are Jon Voight and Paul Sorvino, who are both entertainingly hammy in their roles.

There’s one good scene in Most Wanted, where Dunn finds himself being chased by what appears to be the entire population of Los Angeles.  Otherwise, this one is adequate but forgettable.