I’ve only seen one other Peter Bogdanovich film, and I wasn’t all that thrilled with what that gave me. As it turns out, however, I should have taken it a little more to heart during my escapade into Bogdanovich’s earlier film and directorial debut, Targets. Where I was merely uncertain about The Last Picture Show’s unsubstantialness, here I am not uncertain in the least; this film has no substance. Apparently, the only reason this got made at all was because producer Roger Corman has two extra days of work that actor Boris Karloff owed him, and so he gave that and a meager budget to Bogdanovich and told him to go crazy with whatever he wanted. It seems Bogdanovich took his words to heart a little more than he should’ve.
The film follows two principal characters; the first is Byron Orlok, an old screen icon who wants to retire, but is forced into one more public appearance at a drive-in theater. The other is Bobby Thompson, a young man who seems to be as all-American as can be, with a wife at home and a good relationship with his parents. There’s only a few scenes where we begin to suspect something is amiss inside Bobby’s head, specifically his fascination and skill with guns. Then, it happens; he up and shoots his wife and mother one day, along with a delivery boy, and takes the opportunity to go on a shooting spree. I would say that the film is thus a character study of a mass killer, except we don’t really get very much in the way of study on Bobby Thompson; like I said, the film only has a very small number of scenes that suggest that there’s a much more sinister side to Bobby, and then he suddenly decides to start his rampage before we really get a handle on why he is the way he is or why he ends up doing the things he does. Weirdly enough, this is a character study without the actual character study, a film that bothers not to explore its own central character, or even the actions he takes. It is a film of nothing, and I can’t abide by a film of nothing. Oddly enough, the film’s second plot of Orlok, played surprisingly well by Karloff, is much more endearing and substantial than the film’s eponymous subject, and I ended this watch wishing the film had spent even more time on Orlok’s story than it already did, which aside from the actual shootings, it basically does already. Really, I’m surprised at how much content the filmmakers were able to put down with only two days of availability for Karloff; he carries the film where the film’s actual central character does not.
I was struck at how impassive the film was to its subject matter. Maybe, the film’s ultimate point is that there is no point to these actions, that there is no rhyme or reason behind why or what these killers do. I personally don’t agree with that; I think there is always an underlying reason or reasons for everything that a human being does, so it was with some apology that I found myself not really agreeing with what Targets accomplished. To me, it was just a completely objective view of a killer’s mass shooting, and nothing more. Not only does that not make a film in a storytelling or entertainment aspect, it shouldn’t be made into a film in the first place. The only reasons it would be are if there is something to say about it, but Targets has nothing to say; it merely gives us a mass shooting, and tells us that that is entertainment. Well, I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to disagree with this sentiment. For a first effort, this is good work by Bogdanovich, but it is good work put to waste on a topic that not only shouldn’t be glorified in the way this does, it is also wasted on a film that doesn’t even bother to explore the topic at all.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10