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Defector At The Movies

This Shit Sucks

John Bronco
Screencap via Hulu

Walton Goggins stars in a new mockumentary called John Bronco, written by Marc Gilbar and directed by Jake Szymanski, that was released on the streaming platform Hulu last week. That sentence probably reads like good news if you happen to be a fan of Goggins (who isn’t?) or are immediately tickled, as I was, by the name John Bronco. Go ahead and watch the trailer for the movie, which looks amusing enough:

There are certainly worse ways to spend 37 minutes (hmmm, why is this movie so short?), particularly if you just want to switch your brain off for a bit and transport yourself back to the time when you thought Anchorman was the funniest movie in history, but there is something that deeply, cynically sucks about this movie. It’s an ad for a crummy car:

The movie is a production of Imagine Documentaries, a division of Imagine Entertainment that saw the potential for a pop culture-drenched comedy sparked by the return of the Ford Bronco line with 2021 models.

Detroit Free Press

Ew!

Cross-promotional entertainment products are nothing new—Space Jam 2 will be out this summer—but John Bronco accounts for a particularly gross evolution of a recent trend in marrying advertorial and narrative projects. There’s plenty to roll your eyes at about Ted Lasso and Uncle Drew making the leap from commercials into film and television franchises, but at least the people responsible for that had the decency to make the leap in the first place. What’s freshly gross about John Bronco is that the people who made it didn’t even go through the motions of taking a character from a piece of advertising and building a movie or TV show around him. The movie exists as a piece of direct advertising and entertainment simultaneously, and it was meant to be both from conception.

That stinks! We’re well into the age of streaming platforms dominating and dictating our entertainment options, and every year the creeping sense that this is all very bad for the culture at large gets harder to ignore. It increasingly feels like Hulu, Netflix, and the rest of the burgeoning streaming giants are greenlighting and creating shows for the sole purpose of providing scenes that can be turned into viral GIFs and screencaps, and now we are presented with a potential preview of an even more depressing future: One in which the whole concept of product placement is rendered obsolete through inversion, where shows and movies start with the product and try to weave a story in between it rather than vice versa. Gilbar and Szymanski freely admitted that John Bronco was conceived in such a way in a glowing writeup published by The Ringer:

Timing for John Bronco was key. First, Gilbar saw Ford was bringing back the Bronco, then the producer wondered whether there was a way to tie the vehicle’s relaunch to a story about “a guy who came out of nowhere and became synonymous with the brand.” After initial meetings with Szymanski, Ford granted the production team access to their archives, giving the idea needed background and authenticity to anchor John Bronco’s roller-coaster ride. Szymanski could cherry-pick what they wanted to highlight then insert their own spokesperson—a Marlboro Man for the sporty SUV, so to speak.

The Ringer

Gross!