You can’t make up a story like Richard Davis’ life. Or maybe you can, as Ramin Bahrani’s documentary 2nd Chance intimates much of Davis’ story was fabricated – by Davis. From his humble beginnings as a pizzeria owner to operating one of the largest bulletproof vest corporations in the world, Davis projected the image of an outlaw maverick. Whether his story is truth, lie, or something in between, Davis is the fascinating subject for this stranger-than-fiction documentary.
The American Dream promises untold riches but neglects to mention the ruthlessness required to attain it. The beginning of Davis’ American Dream redefines the word ‘ruthless: Davis shot and killed two armed robbers while delivering pizzas in Detroit, Michigan. Thus began a lifelong obsession with guns that led Davis to invent and patent the first Kevlar bulletproof vest in 1974.
Davis traveled the country shooting himself in the chest at point-blank range to market his vest to police officers. To date, he has performed this stunt over 190 times. Yes, Richard Davis’ American Dream is literally riddled with bullets.
With a voice sounding eerily like Roger Ebert and a mentality disturbingly like Dirty Harry, Davis capitalized on his overnight success by publishing Sex & Violence Magazine and producing several films throughout the ’70s and ’80s. He named his company Second Chance, and it quickly became the largest employer in the tiny town of Central Lake, Michigan. Davis perfected a shoot-first ask questions later persona, making him a celebrity there. Of course, Davis was more likely to be shooting off his mouth than explosive armaments.
Bahrani interviews those closest to Davis over the last 50 years, including ex-wives, ex-friends, and ex-employees. Do you see a pattern here? “Richard desperately needs to be loved by people,” comments one of his ex-wives. It’s that intense need for validation that eventually led to Davis’ economic demise, as well as his estrangement from nearly everyone in his life.
There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about 2nd Chance. It’s neither explosive exposé nor over-the-top commentary on Conservative Americana. It’s primarily talking-head, direct-to-camera interviews interspersed with footage from Davis’ outrageous (and admittedly entertaining) movies. The most fascinating interview subject, of course, is Davis himself. Defiant, charming, and clearly deluded, Davis never met an accusation he couldn’t dodge. This is the man who specializes in bulletproof vests, after all.
What 2nd Chance offers, aside from Davis’ remarkable story, is a surreptitious peek into American gun culture. Watching Davis shoot ungodly amounts of ammunition into derelict cars provides a vicarious thrill, perhaps, but it also raises troubling questions about who needs that kind of firepower and why. Even Davis’ yearly fireworks display in Central Lake turned deadly in 1997, injuring and killing several bystanders. So while you’re enjoying the details of Richard Davis’ captivating life, never forget how quickly the American Dream can transform into a nightmare.