Despite Walton Goggins’ protests, the world is determined to prove that the actor is a bona fide heartthrob. He’s repeatedly cast as charmers — even his villains, like Boyd Crowder in Justified, are irresistible — and one of his most recent gigs, as the lead in the sitcom The Unicorn, is built entirely around how he’s a total catch.
His latest film, the mockumentary John Bronco, only doubles down on his appeal. His character, the fictional John Bronco, is described as the greatest pitchman of all time. As soon as Goggins flashes a smile, it’s hard not to buy into that mythical status.
John Bronco adopts a similar structure to director Jake Szymanski’s previous moc-docs 7 Days in Hell and Tour de Pharmacy, and brings in famous faces (Bo Derek, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) to play themselves in talking head segments with other actors (Tim Meadows, Tim Baltz) playing characters that fill out the fictional history. John Bronco rocketed to international fame in the 1960s, with a bit of retconning establishing that the Ford Motor Company named the Bronco after him, but he’s been missing since his fall from popularity and grace in 1996.
The film largely relies on Baltz’s character, an archivist (who wanders through the Ford archives), and Meadows, as Bronco’s former manager, to chronicle Bronco’s history, and their mythologizing is the most enjoyable part of the film. Goggins seems game for anything, donning a variety of absurd costumes and hairpieces as he’s thrown into ad after ad, all of which appear as “archival footage.” When the film picks up in the present day, it loses a little steam. The hunt to find Bronco and what his return ultimately heralds — the revival of the Ford Bronco — is a little less interesting for being based in reality.
A less charitable reading might call John Bronco sponcon, but Szymanski’s direction is sharp enough to keep the film from feeling disingenuous. If anything, the closest thing John Bronco has to an equal is Skittles Commercial: The Broadway Musical. In February of 2019, the Wrigley Company took over the Town Hall theater in New York City to stage a Skittles musical, starring Dexter’s Michael C. Hall and written by Pulitzer Prize finalist Will Eno, as a replacement for a Super Bowl commercial. Thanks to the talent involved and the level of self-awareness threaded through the whole affair, the musical was a joy.
John Bronco doesn’t get quite as meta (Skittles Commercial featured a reveal in which the characters were told they were actors and Hall was murdered, only to return as a ghost singing about Skittles sales), but it’s no less self-effacing. Right now, the real Bronco’s biggest pop culture legacy may be its role in the infamous O. J. Simpson police chase. John Bronco winks at that unfortunate truth by putting John in an ad with a white Bronco, saying that the car will forever be associated with him, and definitely nothing else.
The only pity as to how relatively slim the film is (it runs just under 40 minutes) is that it doesn’t offer us any more time with Goggins-as-Bronco. His cluelessness is just harmless enough to be endearing; watching him try to work through his aversion to frisbees or find out that he’s been dumped on air only makes him more lovable rather than just cringe-inducing. And the charisma that was fully on display in Goggins’ previous work is firing on all cylinders in John Bronco — the role demands grins, winks, and whoops, and Goggins is a master at them all.
Even though it has a few ups and downs, John Bronco never lets up on the laughs. Meadows is a comedic genius — he gets an entire aside about people aptly named with regards to the thing they’re best known for — and the talking heads, as in the rest of Szymanski’s mockumentary work, always speak as seriously as if they were remembering real events. John Bronco is light, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing for the real Bronco to be associated with for the rest of time.
John Bronco is streaming on Hulu now.