Take a ride with ‘John Bronco’
Ryan Israel | Tuesday, October 20, 2020
When O.J. Simpson took off down the Los Angeles interstate in a white 1993 Ford Bronco driven by Al Cowlings, trailed by the city’s police force and watched by people across the country, he became the unofficial spokesperson for the SUV. The vehicle had been around almost 30 years when O.J. went on the lam in 1994, but the pictures, coverage and notoriety of the car chase made the vehicle forever synonymous with The Juice and his infamous trial. When the car was discontinued in 1996, it left no chance for any rewriting of its history — until now.
The new Hulu short film “John Bronco” introduces the vehicle’s namesake and original pitchman, cowboy turned Hollywood-star turned long-forgotten hero John Bronco. His story, described as “one of the greatest underdog stories of all time,” is told for the first time in the documentary.
Of course, it’s not actually a documentary. John Bronco never existed. The film is a mockumentary, a fictitious tale written by Marc Gilbar and directed by Jake Szymanski, who utilize the recent announcement of the Bronco’s reintroduction as a chance to explore the vehicle’s cultural significance with the help of a created character. The result is a film that combines the historical car stories of “Ford v. Ferrari” with the humor and comedy of the mockumentary genre, most recently perfected in IFC’s “Documentary Now!”
Walton Goggins, a versatile actor often placed in minor roles, stars as the one and only John Bronco, and he does his best to fill the role of a mythical figure. With a Texas twang and a propensity for profanity, Bronco, who is a a bit “rough around the edges,” is also an unlikely hero who speaks to the American ideals of hard work and traditionalism. His boots are always dirty and his personality is always unfiltered, displayed prominently in every advertisement for the Bronco.
Bronco’s story is told both by the people who knew him well — like Tim Meadows as John’s hilarious manager and actress Bo Derek as John’s former girlfriend — and by the people who knew of him, like fellow spokesperson and NBA star Kareem Abdul Jabar and Tim Baltz as an obsessed Ford historian. They recount his rise to fame, fall from grace and mysterious disappearance while Dennis Quaid narrates the search for Bronco.
The film is at its best — and funniest — when Bronco’s on the screen. The character is ridiculous yet recognizable. Bronco combines two well-known figures — the western cowboy and the TV advert pitchman — to produce a comedic result. When specific, preposterous stories and details such as Bronco’s one true weakness are thrown in, the film shines. It falls short, however, when the 2021 Ford Bronco becomes the focus, making the film feel like a whacky, alternative advertising strategy, as well as when some of the uncharismatic interview subjects are given their time.
The exact message of “John Bronco” isn’t quite clear, either. It’s somewhat of a critique of celebrity and advertising. There’s some commentary on ‘60s and ‘70s culture. The story is redemptive, but that doesn’t seem to be the important part. So when the film ends, there’s justification in wanting just a bit more from it.
“John Bronco’s” greatest asset may be its runtime; at 47 minutes, the film is an incredibly easy watch, a small dose of mockumentary comedy that doesn’t try to be more than it has to be, even if it’s not quite sure what it is supposed to be.
Title: “John Bronco”
Starring: Walton Goggins, Tim Meadows, Tim Baltz
Director: Jake Szymanski
Where to watch: Hulu
Shamrocks: 3 out of 5