Director Jake Szymanski is back with a new installment in what’s become his mockumentary trilogy, beginning with 2015’s 7 Days in Hell, followed by 2017’s Tour de Pharmacy, and now continuing with John Bronco. Made under the Brian Grazer–Ron Howard shingle Imagine Documentaries, John Bronco charts the rise and fall of the enigmatic (but extremely fictional) former Ford pitchman, John Bronco. And, naturally, the only man suited to play this rogue, one-of-a-kind tumbleweed blowin’ in the wind is Walton Goggins.
Because John Bronco is a TV movie coming in under the 1-hour mark (it’s 37 minutes, to be exact), I won’t give away too much of the plot. It’s a twisty and surprise-filled affair, so I’ll stick to the basics. John Bronco is a faux documentary meant to track the rise, stardom, and sudden disappearance of the uber-famous Ford Bronco pitchman John Bronco (Goggins). John begins as a racecar driver before pivoting to his word with Ford, who names the first generation of Broncos after the racing legend. Soon, John Bronco is everywhere, becoming one of the biggest celebrities on the planet. There are some pitfalls to fame and, after a few too many disastrous career stumbles (this is where the chuckles come in), Bronco simply vanishes into thin air. The mockumentary is narrated by (wince) Dennis Quaid and co-stars Tim Meadows, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bo Derek, and Tim Baltz (the latter of whom who you may recognize as Goggins’ co-star on The Righteous Gemstones).
So, where did he go? Well, I’m not going to spoil that, because when John Bronco does eventually reveal the fate of its titular pitchman, it’s one of the few moments of genuine comedy this mockumentary offers. And that’s perhaps my biggest criticism of John Bronco: It’s less a rib-tickling mockumentary than it is a 37-minute commercial for the Ford Bronco. Now, to be fair, John Bronco was made with a degree of access to Ford’s archives and models of past Ford Broncos to use in John Bronco. This is not a TV movie which lacks in authenticity, that’s for sure.
But when the premise of your story centers around a car pitchman and proceeds to show you numerous fake Ford Bronco commercials which span multiple iterations of the car in question, it’s hard not to feel like Goggins’ John Bronco is literally pitching you to buy the newest Ford Bronco model (coming in 2021). Sure, it’s fun to see Goggins in Daisy Dukes or a big 10-gallon and sporting a big ass mustache that would put Burt Reynolds’ handlebar to shame as he tries to hype the power and majesty of the Ford Bronco. But it’s clear from the jump John Bronco is more effective as a car commercial which sees actors we love occasionally cracking wise rather than the famous Ford car model figuring into a bigger story about John Bronco. After a while, John Bronco just becomes glamor shots of the Ford Bronco with some comedy sprinkled it.
It’s a shame that Szymanski’s third entry in his trilogy of mockumentaries is weighed down to some degree by Ford’s overt presence. Szymanski’s inability to bring in some of the comedic ingenuity we saw in the balls-out, deeply absurd 7 Days in Hell or Tour de Pharmacy to smooth over those bumps is unfortunate. 7 Days and Tour de Pharmacy have Wimbledon and the Tour de France as its big set pieces, but the character work and world-building are so strong you forget about the notable events at the center of it. The Ford brand looms large in John Bronco, threatening to snap you back into reality and out of the gloriously loopy story Szymanski, Goggins, and their team are trying to tell.
If the mention of Goggins in Daisy Dukes (or the above visual) is any indicator, John Bronco does have its bright spots. Goggins is, as always, a delight to see let loose onscreen. His manic-yet-charming energy which comes through in more offbeat performances works perfectly for the demands of John Bronco‘s story. Equally as brilliant is the crafting and use of fake archival footage to bring John Bronco’s story to life. It’s necessary for the story but also a very smart way to add some period-specific production value without going over the top. And I would be remiss if I didn’t give Meadows a special shout-out as John Bronco’s friend and former manager, Donovan Piggot, who gets a funny running bit about mixing up celebrities with average (but possibly also famous?) historical figures.
All in all, John Bronco is a fun curiosity. It’s not the most essential or must-see comedy of 2020. Instead, it’s a nice diversion into the bizarre and goofy, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. If you need a shot of Goggins, check this one out.
John Bronco is now available to stream on Hulu. For more, find out what new movies and TV are on Hulu this October.
Allie Gemmill is the Weekend Contributing Editor for Collider. You can follow them on Twitter @_matineeidle.