“Hands on a Hardbody,” the story of Texans competing to win a new “pick’em up truck” by seeing who could stand up and keep one hand on it the longest was a documentary that was excerpted for a “This American Life” radio essay, and even transformed into a Broadway musical. So it’s understandable that German writer and director Bastian Günther (“Houston,” “Autopilots”) would want to do a little something different in filming his “inspired by true events” take on the the material.
But “One of These Days,” his fictionalized take on just such a contest, loses its way as he goes beyond the psychological and physical toll of such a contest and lapses into melodrama and a sort of “what if” finale. It’s interesting and thought-provoking, even if that thought is “You almost spoilt your movie, meine Freund.”
A few quick strokes establish a sleepy, dying rural town through weed-covered lots, discount stores and struggling, working class Texans and their housing, much of it sampled via Google Street View. Wherever this dead end is, Bubba Boudreaux of Boudreaux Auto & Truck puts on a show, once a year, that gets folks to talking for miles around.
It’s the annual Hands on a Hard Body give-away, an annual contest in which 20 “lucky” contestants get a chance to win a shiny new “Matterhorn” edition pickup (it’s a Ford dealership) just by outlasting each other in a test of stamina and just plain stubbornness.
Promotions manager Joan (Carrie Preston of “True Blood,” “The Good Wife” and “Claws”) runs this show, an ever-smiling fixture in town and on local TV, which covers the hell out of this spectacle. Joan is divorced, we gather. She has a regular “nooner” whom she hooks up with over lunch. And her smile and positivity aren’t shaken even when her paramour (Cullen Moss) callously tells her “I’ve met somebody,” and their assignations must end.
Joan’s sweetness extends to all those folks picked to compete, starting with discount store clerk Kyle (Joe Cole of “Peaky Blinders” and “Gangs of London”). He’s married, with a working wife (Callie Hernandez) and a baby at home.
And they could really use a reliable new “ve-HICLE” as we say in the rural South.
“No sugar,” Joan advises him. “No fatty foods. Lots of water and bananas.”
This isn’t her first rodeo. She not only has “perfected this contest,” with scheduled bathroom and meal breaks, live entertainment and food and drink give-aways designed to draw a crowd, judges working in shifts around the clock and all of it taking place under a tent on the lot. She knows how past winners managed the 50-100 hour ordeal.
Kyle will be facing 19 other people, a real cross section of the community, from aged Bible quoter Ruthie (Lynne Ashe) and bullheaded old coot Walter (Carl Palmer)to telegenic but intense veteran Derek (Evan Henderson) and a Louisianan jerk’s jerk Kevin (Jesse C. Boyd of “Outer Banks” and “Halloween Ends”).
Walter may annoy and Derek threaten. Others may even trot out the race card. But Kevin is goading, taunting and provoking his way to that truck, determined to get inside everybody else’s head, especially the desperate Kyle.
Over the course of this ordeal, fights and compassion, mutual respect and deeply personal contempt will come out as one and all try to endure or bait the others into quitting or simply forgetting what they’re doing and where they are as hallucinations replace recriminations.
That’s a fairly conventional narrative, but it’s interesting enough that it would have made a solid, suspenseful and possibly even “feel good” movie, one about 90 minutes long.
Günther goes for something beyond that Limits of Human Endurance tale for a third act that starts with the melodramatic and turns towards narrative cheats, folding flashbacks in to make one question just how “desperate” someone should be if there wasn’t some salesman waving a shiny new truck in front of everybody’s face, creating relative deprivation and a sense of want.
The actors do a great job establishing characters and Günther nails this milieu as we follow Joan through this “My time to shine” bit of logistics and “managing” her contestants. And then Günther moves on from that, and I thought, loses his way.
Not a bad movie, but a better one plays out and ends before a final 15 minute anti-climax.
Rating: unrated, violence, sex, nudity, profanity
Cast: Carrie Preston, Joe Cole, Jesse C. Boyd, Lynne Ashe, Sam Malone, Amy Le and Callie Hernandez
Credits: Scripted and directed by Bastian Günther. A Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:59