Dan Crenshaw’s new campaign ad is a whole thing – Texas Monthly
On Thursday evening, Houston Republican Dan Crenshaw shared a new campaign ad with himself and five other GOP congressional candidates on his YouTube page, which has been humbly dubbed “the greatest campaign campaign in history.” The description of the three-and-a-half-minute spot as “advertising” almost leads to a misidentification. It is not campaign advertising in the traditional sense, as these often identify the politics of the candidates or at least describe the politics of their opponents. The video does not include any call-to-action or even details about when to vote and why you should specifically vote for the candidates who appear.
No, what Crenshaw and friends created is … art? A short film anyway, stylized like an action film trailer (for a film called Texas Reloaded, which the candidates would apparently have a lot of fun with), and which the team was supposed to introduce to the voters as superheroically as possible. It’s quirky and confident, and quite strange, a fun advertisement at a dark time. However, since it presents its characters in the context of an action film, it is fair to think of it as such. There are some plot holes, shall we say, and some stylistic choices that don’t quite make sense. Since no one is posting such an ad in order not to start a conversation, we will make the observations and ask the questions that were left to us after watching Texas Reloaded.
1. Crenshaw riffs on the eye patch
Crenshaw, who represents Texas Second Congressional District, has been on the news before for his eye patch. In 2018, Saturday Night Live’s Pete Davidson helped build the freshman to national political fame after taunting the candidate as though he looked like “a hit man in a pornographic movie.” Crenshaw, who lost his eye in an IED explosion while on duty in Afghanistan, later appeared at SNL, where Davidson apologized. The joke may have been tasteless, but Crenshaw himself slaps the eye patch in the first moments of the ad, lifting it to reveal … a bionic eye! It scans a cell phone that says “Top Secret” to alert the congressman of his secret incoming mission, a classic incitement incident like something straight out of a Syd Field script.
2. Why does Crenshaw get his mission from someone with a British accent?
The voice informing Crenshaw of his secret mission speaks unmistakably with a British accent. This makes sense in films where the British accent = smart, but sends a strange message in an ad about being hired to recruit a team of politicians to “save Texas”. Sure there are people with British accents who work in both American politics and American intelligence, but an odd choice nonetheless.
3. Why is he taking a plane to visit the man whose district is closest to him?
In the second scene of Crenshaw’s “Getting the team together” sequence, he straps a parachute onto his back, refuels the plane, and flies to … TX-7, which is directly adjacent to the southwestern part of Crenshaw’s own borough. There he meets Wesley Hunt, who challenges the Democratic incumbent Lizzie Fletcher in Harris County. The chemistry between the two is easy, and Hunt – chewing a cigar and sitting in the cockpit of an Apache helicopter – is an obvious choice for the first-time recruit. He asks Crenshaw why he parachuted off instead of texting, which is a good question, but it also ignores that there are so many ways a person can get from TX-2 to TX-7. Literally just cross the street! Had we been consulted on the script, we would have suggested Crenshaw and co-writer / director Jarred Taylor drop by one of the candidates in San Antonio or the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
4. Why is August Pfluger in this ad?
Five of the six candidates in the ad have one thing in common: They all compete in competitions. Some of them are outsiders. Crenshaw, the most high-profile of the group, is preferred to keep his seat. But August Pfluger, who’s hanging out with Hunt in the hangar, is walking in the safe Republican Eleventh Congressional District. I think that means he has time to cool off in TX-7 with Hunt, but it’s a missed opportunity to tuck a more vulnerable candidate like longtime incumbent Michael McCaul (TX-10) in a suit behind a desk to play Charlie to Crenshaw’s Angels.
5. How tall is August Pfluger?
Dude is a whole head taller than Crenshaw and Hunt.
6. Did these three boys travel to Beth Van Duyne’s in separate planes?
Climate change is a hot political issue, but one that Crenshaw recognizes as real. But when it comes time to recruit Van Duyne, we see footage of Crenshaw’s jet and Hunt’s helicopter making the relatively short trip to Dallas. We’re not saying they should have jumped on the Megabus, but that just seems wasteful.
7. Why does Beth Van Duyne award Police Officer Medals?
The nominee, who ran to succeed a longtime GOP representative in North Texas, may have had that on her list of roles when she was Mayor of Irving, but now she’s the regional administrator for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Are these HUD police?
8. Why does the screen shake when Crenshaw and Van Duyne shake hands?
You have added a “slam” sound effect! How much did you shake? Are you all right? Did Hunt have to rush someone to hospital with a broken wrist?
9. What is Tony Gonzales hacking into?
Tony Gonzales, a Navy veteran running to replace Rep Will Hurd in the highly competitive 23rd Congressional District of Texas, works in cybersecurity. Graphics on the screen. Still, every database Gonzales tries to access is called “Secret Information,” which sounds like a trap to us. Crenshaw also disconnects Gonzales’ computer just before he gets in, so it doesn’t have to be that important. Maybe we’ll find out in the sequel!
10. Why wasn’t better sound equipment used?
You clearly spent some money on this ad, and director Jarred Taylor has real feature film experience. But when Crenshaw speaks and the score – a mix of The Avengers theme (without the crescendo) and a Thomas J. Henry commercial – falls, there is a lot of static background noise. Just a reminder to low budget and independent filmmakers, not to skimp on sound quality. That really puts a strain on production.
11. Who is Genevieve Collins fighting against?
Genevieve Collins, who is running against Colin Allred in Collin County, appears for the first time in the ad in a… yoga studio? A dojo? Somewhere with plants and a bamboo floor anyway. She wages hand-to-hand combat against a bald and bearded assailant that she takes down with ease. It appears to be some kind of sparring, and the ad relates to Collins’s time as an athlete. She was a competitive NCAA rower in college, but a bio search for a martial arts history reveals little. Sure, a karate exhibition is more visually dynamic than showing the candidate performing her duties as director of corporate strategy for educational technology company Istation, and she does the stunt work, but we need more context for this encounter. (Besides, if they freeze them, why did they leave their defeated opponent’s hand in the shot?)
12. What do they blow up?
The last shot in which our characters approach the camera in slow motion is a standby in every action film. Avengers director Joss Whedon, explaining his problem with an earlier draft of the script for that film, once argued with the ubiquity of this type of setting: “There was a line in the directions that said, speaking of nothing, ‘And then they all go towards the camera in slow motion because you have to have it, ‘”Whedon recalled in 2018 from Thrillist. “Yes, well, no: you have to earn it.” Texas Reloaded doesn’t really deserve it – the team is being recruited, but we immediately jump to a shot of the United States Capitol, then to the crew that did the slo-mo- Walk does before – wait for it – helicopters fly by and then whatever asphalt they’re walking on explodes behind them!
Granted, an explosion behind our heroes is an exciting moment. But there is no sense of danger in the display, no missions are outlined, no context given as to why the explosion occurred. Are you under attack or did you plan the attack? The question is answered quickly, but without a satisfactory explanation: While a massive fireball fills the frame behind the team, Crenshaw crosses his arms and his colleagues assume a heroic stance themselves, satisfied with a job well done. Except … what did you just blow up? The last we saw was the Capitol! What mission were you here on?
The world may never know. We’ll thank Crenshaw for his Father Amco-like dedication to the cause, and it definitely seems like everyone had a fun weekend filming the ad. But as a piece of filmmaking, we have to recognize it as an incomplete work, raising questions it has no interest in answering, and building on issues it doesn’t pay off. Does it take a lot of a political ad to show even the kind of basic narrative cohesion you would find in a sequel to Expendables, for example? Maybe, but we didn’t turn Dan Crenshaw into a cyborg or call the Congressional Candidate class an air raid – those are the decisions the team behind the ad made. We certainly appreciate excessive stupidity in our politics, but if they really nailed the character arcs, they could have had a masterpiece here.