In 10 Words or Less
If you thought gun nuts were nuts, here's proof
Likes: Hidden camera series
Dislikes: Josh T. Ryan, hunting for fun
I love a good documentary, and love a good documentary series even more, as the extended time spent with a subject lets you get to know them even more and see them in a larger variety of situations. While it's rare for these series, like Showtime's Family Business or HBO's Cathouse to not offer up a heavily edited few of the subjects, or to be anything resembling reality, they do get you up close and personal with interesting people, far closer than you'd otherwise likely be able to get. These inside looks tend to be entertaining (especially after the editors have had a chance to cherry pick the best moments) while also frequently fascinating. This goes double for shows that utilize hidden cameras, so people aren't on their guard about how they behave.
Lock 'N Load has no shortage of interesting characters to meet, but it has one too many hosts, as the lead character, Josh T. Ryan, can easily turn most people away from the show. Ryan, sporting a slick hairstyle, the wardrobe of a Vegas resident and a smug, over-sized personality, is a veteran actor and a gun aficionado, so he knows his stuff, but as he tells a customer, he doesn't work in a store very long, which is a shame, as he's a natural salesman, sizing up customers quickly before jumping into his well-rehearsed pitch, offering them exactly what they walked in the door looking for. But he's not there to really sell them a gun. Like the talkative drivers of Taxicab Confessions, what he wants is their stories, which he pulls out with the charm of a neighborhood barkeep, and records on a number of hidden cameras in the shop. Unfortunately, as the host, he's a touch too oily and falsely sincere to be very likable, and thus his "act" wears thin very quickly.
If you come into the series with a low opinion of the gun trade and the people who buy firearms, this show will do nothing to change that opinion, as the people who frequent The Shootist, the gun store and firing range where Ryan works, are not often America's best, like the woman living in a cesspool of violence, whose background check leaves her denied because she forgot that she somehow served three jail sentences for a single DUI. Or maybe the woman who met her husband at the range, and spends their one-year anniversary shooting there--alone. Sure, there are good, decent citizens amongst the variety of customers, but frequently, the people you see holding, buying and firing guns are very disturbing (and the fact that many pay the large bills in cash.) Equally disturbing is the way that Ryan plays customers like a fiddle, manipulating their fear, beliefs or simply their desire to achieve some oddly-defined level of cool.
It's the pro-gun agenda of the show (or its characters) that really turned me off, as the reasons for wanting to own guns are often quite questionable. For something that can kill so easily (and Ryan is nearly killed at least once (seemingly) by someone who doesn't know what they're doing (and laughs about it)) the concept of guns being fun or cool is far too dominant. I don't have a real issue with people owning sport guns or hunting rifles, but the idea of assault rifles and massive handguns feels like overkill, and watching people who can barely function in a general sense of reality use a deadly weapon, or worse yet, hand one to a child whose understanding of the value of life is limited as it is, is frustrating and frightening. That there's almost nothing presented in terms to the negative side of firearms is also a bit dishonest, as is the fact that you'll see the same people (in the same clothes) frequently throughout the six episodes, crossing each other's paths, with footage reused two or times. Either they didn't film for very long or they set customers up to get interesting people in the store at the same time, or the customers on a whole weren't that interesting. Either way, it comes off as a bit odd.
Ryan actually makes the interviewing look extremely natural, and the stories told by the customers are well worth hearing, but there are other elements that are far too contrived. Ryan will make excuses to meet with customers outside of the store or to just go out and shoot with them, or the owners of the shop, which includes the family matriarch, Arlene, who fills the old-lady spot that all shows about family businesses seem to have. It just gets more ridiculous when Ryan challenges one particularly passionate customer to break down a rifle blindfolded or convinces a guy to Taser his pal in the store, for no real reason other than to capture it on film. Sure, you don't expect such an over-the-top concept to stick to documentary ethics or to be an educational experience, but at least I did learn one thing: I'm not going anywhere near Englewood, Colorado, home of The Shootist. It's too damn scary.
A one-disc release, this DVD comes in a standard-width clear keepcase, with a two-sided cover listing the episodes on the inside with descriptions. The disc has an animated, anamorphic widescreen menu with options to watch the show, select chapters, and adjust the audio. Audio options include Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 English tracks, though there are no subtitles (only closed captioning.)
There are two looks to Lock N Load, which mixes hidden-camera footage with excellent high-quality video when the people know they are being filmed. While the "on camera" footage looks great, with bright, appropriate color and a high level of detail, the hidden camera scenes have an expectedly lower fidelity to them, with slightly duller color, a touch less detail and increased noise in the image. No matter which part you're watching though, there are no problems with dirt, damage or digital artifacts.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is pretty weak, considering all of the gunshots the series has to offer. It actually features some decent separation between the channels, keeping the dialogue to the center channel, while the music and sound effects are pushed to the surround speakers. One would have expected the many blasts to get a bit of emphasis in the surrounds, but that didn't happen. It's all pretty clear anyway.
Not a one to be found. Not even with a scope.
The Bottom Line
My hopes for an interesting, real-life look behind the scenes of the gun trade were quickly dashed when first meeting Ryan, a slick guy who's a bad Jersey accent short of being a Sopranos character. So instead of a docu-seres, it's more contrived, as he essentially turns the shop into a talk show, interviewing the customers. There's no denying that many of the stories are interesting, but the buyers are frequently people you shouldn't want to know, and it's scary to see what kind of access they have to firearms.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.