Writing critically about a film like My Son Hunter feels kind of like sending the kid making fart noises from the back of the class to detention. Any measure of reprimand means giving the troublemaker exactly what they want – engagement, which is to say attention, which is to say validation. When your only goal is to get a rise out of a perceived opponent, even the most cool-headed retort means the game is on.
In the case of far-right ear-flicking such as this fiction-laced retelling of the Hunter Biden laptop nothingburger, a writeup in a semi-reputable publication like the Guardian gives hyperventilating Breitbart commenters all the ammo they need to prove that the libs have been thoroughly and irrefutably triggered. The truth is that the latest feature-length output from the conservative peanut gallery poses little threat to the public viewing, its foamy-mouthed partisanship speaking only to those already sympathetic to its theories and alienating the saner majority within its opening minutes. It doesn’t deserve time or mental energy from right-thinking citizens, but if the past decade of American politics has taught us anything, it’s that ignoring extremism doesn’t make it go away.
And so an intrepid critic has no choice but to tromp into the dank bog of paranoia and conspiracy theorizing that is the sophomore directory effort from Robert Davi. (His only other credit being 2007’s forgotten The Dukes, he’s perhaps most fondly remembered as the sleazy club owner in Showgirls who muses to Elizabeth Berkley, “Must be weird not having anybody cum on you.”) In its hermetically sealed ideology, under which all of the favored Trumpian talking points about alleged corruption in the Biden administration can’t be countered with the real-world examples of his own misdeeds, the film offers fringe lunatics a safe space. “This is not a true story,” says a Secret Service agent with a smirk, moments after the currently sitting president takes a deep whiff of her hair. “Except for all the facts.” To ensure that the truth-to-power self-aggrandizement comes across loud and clear, these words also appear onscreen.
That line is delivered by actor Gina Carano, better known for the work she hasn’t done than what she has; last year, in the wake of sharing an Instagram post equating the extermination of Jews during the Holocaust to the supposed persecution faced by American conservatives, she was dismissed from her role in streaming series The Mandalorian and barred from appearances in future Star Wars-adjacent media . Her role may be minimal, but her presence is significant, a clear statement that we’re in a purgatorial sub-industry that allows performers blackballed by “cancellation” (read: radioactive PR calamities) to continue working. Take John James, the actor portraying the markedly Trump-like Biden, his paltry recent filmography secondary to an abortive 2014 bid for Congress as a Republican. They all require an agreeable platform in which their jagged edges won’t be objected to, much in the same way that an increasingly reactionary John Cleese will only show his face of him in the new film by Roman Polanski.
Along with its cast, the film is bound together by all it opposes rather than any single cogent belief. Those dastardly Democrats hate America and won’t be satisfied until the republic lies in ruin, an animating principle sturdier than the disorganized yarn-and-corkboard fantasies incoherently passed off as exposé. The gist seems to be that the commander-in-chief’s playboy failedson Hunter, desperate to earn the approval and respect of his father, did some backroom dealings with Russian oligarch types and left behind a laptop computer as a smoking gun. Never mind that the contents of said computer have been proved non-scandalous, and never mind that Russian state media has eagerly embraced the cockamamie narratives peddled here. Both Davi’s direction and the weirdly magnetic leading turn from “anti-political correctness activist” Laurence Fox cast Hunter as a compelling, sympathetic figure. At first, he just looks plain cool, a hard-partying sex machine that the camera looks at with an inexplicable air of envy in direct contradiction to the intention to defame him. But the latter half exposes the undercurrent of tragedy beneath his hedonism, posing him as a macho Fredo slapped down by a life he was never meant for.
The film is much more secure in the vehemency of its anger than the hows or whys, starting with a news montage of flaming violence during Black Lives Matter protests that huffs and puffs on a racist dogwhistle. This has nothing to do with the proposed Biden crime syndicate, but like so many of the pushed buttons, it serves to stoke the embers of rage in a presumed viewer all too excited to spend two hours fuming in like-minded company. That mentality of paradoxically paired grievance and gloating is the only way to explain the weirder flourishes, all of which suggest someone laughing a little too hard in an effort to appear not-mad. After the Bidens finalize an agreement with distant relatives of Boris and Natasha Badenov, father and son launch into a celebration montage that looks like history’s lowest-budget rap video (complete with biting of crisp hundreds), punctuated by title cards that read “QUICK PRO CROW” and “FACT CHECK: TRUE. TOO TRUE.”
That none of this actually makes any sense isn’t much of a problem; modern rightwing thought has relied on vibes over threads of logic for years now, assured of its own effectiveness so long as the correct fears and resentments have been exploited. Near the end of the film, an invented whistleblower character named Grace (Emma Gojkovic, one of the less-intrusive expressions of the shoestring production being its having been shot in Serbia) gives the dirt to Rudy Giuliani, leading to the glorious landslide re- election of President Trump in 2020. It’s a dream, of course, but its desire for vindication is all too real. Davi wants to take a victory lap without the victory, so his only recourse from him is to build a tiny, isolated universe in which he and his cohort him get to play winner. The creation of an alternate reality makes for a troubling yet apt Sendoff, representative of a toxic strain of Q-adjacent conservatism that relies upon casting its subscribers as hero and star in an epic drama only they can see. “Maybe, in the end, the truth itself became the fairytale,” Grace says through the fourth wall. Whatever that means, sure, fine – but it does suggest the corollary that for those sympathetic to this movie’s tinfoil-hatted mumbo-jumbo, fairytales have taken the place of truth.