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Reel Men

The von Hoffman brothers on the manliness of fistfights, Kurt Russell, and Breakdown

By David Templeton


Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to interesting movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation. This time around, he buddies up with the two-headed testosterone von Hoffman brother hurricane to see the manly action thriller Breakdown.

Todd von Hoffman cues up and takes his shot. He misses. "Bruce Willis is OK," he semi-enthuses, standing up and reaching for his beer as I lean against the bar, reading aloud from the local movie listings. I've just suggested seeing The Fifth Element, the latest Willis flick, but I continue looking.

Finally, I come to Breakdown, a Kurt Russell thriller. Lots of guns, trucks, and fistfights.

"That's the one!" exclaims brother Brant, stepping up to take his own shot. "Anything with Kurt Russell in it."

"Kurt Russell," grunts Todd, "just reeks of 'Regular Guy.'" Moments later, we pile into my vehicle for the cross-town trek to the theater. "My kind of car!" Todd shouts. "It's a total mess!"

My boisterous guests this afternoon are the Los Angeles-based authors of The von Hoffman Bros.' Big Damn Book of Sheer Manliness (General Publishing Group; $29.95). A hilarious, lovingly designed book, this weighty tome is a lusty salute to the kinds of things that many 'regular guys' appreciate. With the support of over a thousand photographs, the von Hoffmans offer their praises of beer, dogs, meat, baseball, and cigars. There is a list of the world's best 'guy movies'--Spartacus being No. 1--plus a bodacious list of synonyms for the word breast and another--twice as long--offering alternatives for a man's 'Johnson.' Best of all is "The Bombastic Manifesto: What Guys Know," an opening essay in defense of masculinity so ballsy and bold that it would make men's movement poet Robert Bly blush.

Which brings us to Breakdown, a film in which a yuppified Russell must contend with savage rednecks intent on mayhem after his car breaks down on a lonely stretch of road somewhere in the American West. An evil trucker is involved; Kurt rises to the challenge.

"I haven't seen anything so relentless since Aliens," Brant proclaims after the show. "If this is your cup of tea, this movie delivers." We've located a bar down the street from the theater, and--Budweisers in hand--have settled in to discuss the film. That we appear to have chosen a gay bar does not faze the von Hoffmans for one moment. After all, beer is beer.

"This movie pushes some very disturbing buttons," Todd offers. "You know, there has never been a time when the average guy has felt so great a need to protect and cover and huddle over our children, our families, our possessions, even our lives. This picks up on that and exploits it to an amazing extreme.

Describing an opening scene from the movie, Todd continues, "When the cowboy comes up to Kurt and starts giving him shit, a knot the size of a fist was twisting right in the center of my chest. Both of you felt it too, I'm sure. Because we, as men, know what that feels like, that prelude to putting up our dukes. The juices start running, the heart beats, the hands shakes because you've got that fight-or-flight thing happening."

"And Kurt felt like a wuss," Brant adds, referring to Russell's decidedly passive reaction to this confrontation. "He let him get away with it, and we've all been there, haven't we?"

Brant tells of the time he was accosted by the former boyfriend of a woman he was dating. "He dragged her out of the car by her hair," he recalls, cringing. "I was scared out of my mind. I couldn't do anything. I felt so emasculated."

"I have the opposite problem," says Todd. "cuz I've been in a lot of fights." Relating the tale of a neighbor who'd been revving his motorcycle for hours, he says, "Instead of going with my instincts and taking a baseball bat down there, I just went up to him and in a calm voice I said, 'I want this to stop. Right now.' That was it. No come back. No parting shot. I never heard that bike again. It was very satisfying, and it never got violent.

"There's just no question," he happily sighs, "that facing up to a confrontation--if it's justified--is an intensely satisfying thing."

"Psychologists will tell you that some people are actually looking to get beaten up," Brant adds. "We mention this in the 'Bombastic Manifesto.'"

"It's in the section titled, 'What guys know about fighting,'" Todd nods, solemnly quoting, "'From time to time, you will come upon a brother who is not asking, not begging, but indeed screaming out to have his ass kicked, and it is your honor-bound duty to accommodate him."

"'And at any time," Brant joins in, smiling only slightly, "that brother may be you or me." He lifts his bottle in a silent toast to all possessors of testosterone, adding, "And is that bombastic or what?"

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From the May 29-June 4, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent

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