Hobo with a Shotgun
Rutger Hauer, Brian Downey, Gregory Smith, Molly Dunsworth, Rob Wells, Nick Bateman
(Magnolia Pictures; US theatrical: 6 May 2011 (General release); 2011)
You can’t make a bad movie on purpose. Almost all famously foul films are the result of a happy accident, a clash of creativity and inherent aesthetic cluelessness. It’s crap karma, not a well honed blueprint. The same goes for ersatz exploitation. Unless your name is Kroger Babb, Barry Mahon, David F. Friedman, or Harry Novak (among others), you’re not “recapturing” the glory (hole) days of the sleazoid drive-in experience. Instead, all grindhouse updates are merely shadows of their former seedy selves, fan fiction fantasies which neither attempt to push the envelope nor tackle the taboo subject matter of the subgenre. Somewhere along the line, “excess” replaced the real deal, meaning most current “re-imaginings” are all about the amplified sex and violence and not about the shock value.
Take Hobo with a Shotgun, for example. Winner of the trailer contest Robert Rodriguez held back when his pairing with pal Quentin Tarantino was all the Messageboard rage, this modest Canadian production took on epic proportions when the famous duo’s own Hollywood homage to the cinematic stalwart underachieved, leaving Rutger Hauer and aging bad-assiness to save the day. A couple of years later and a trip to direct to On Demand Hell and, once again, we have an example of post-modern commerce unable to match pre-‘70s art. Like an unholy marriage between Jim Muro’s Street Trash, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, a very special episode of Bum Fights and a fanboy’s trunk full of slash, this otherwise endearing mess means well, but can’t quite achieve the expectations everyone has thrust upon it.
Hauer is old and crabby as a newly arrived homeless man in the slum cum cesspool of a city known as ...well, it really doesn’t matter. The town is run by some white suit wearing baddie named Drake and his two refugees from the Tom Cruise school of the ‘80s-idea-of-cool sons, Slick and Ivan. Their notion of daily fun is to rape prostitutes, push dope, buy off the police, beat citizens, scare children, and yank the heads off of those who don’t abide by their sense of social lawlessness. After meeting a hooker with a heart of gold named Abby and finding out that the cops are no help at all, our hobo hero grabs a 12 gauge, discovers a magical chamber with infinite rounds, and runs ramshackle over the criminals, blowing their guts all over the filthy, fouled pavement. Drake wants this vigilante dead, and so he threatens the public into killing all the bums they see. When that doesn’t work, he calls on his demonic henchmen - The Plague! - to do his evil bidding.
Hobo with a Shotgun is like a stoned pal’s idea of a kick-ass indie action epic. It’s got a recognizable geek icon (Hauer has been living off Blade Runner for three decades now), a depravity born of one too many bong hits, and a penchant for gore that will make even the most dedicated follower of Fangoria sit up and take notice. It’s all ‘guts’ and little glory. It panders and satisfies, it exceeds ability and fails anticipation. No one wants this to be Shakespeare with a body count, but when the steel-bodied Plague show up like rejects from a Junkyard Wars interpretation of The Terminator, you can see the movie literally running out of ideas. Like an ad man scrambling to save an account, the screenplay throws everything it can at the screen to see what sticks. Sometimes, the results are delightfully repugnant. At other instances, they’re just stupid.
But the main issue with this movie remains the same one that sunk the high concept film in the ‘80s - potential. When you hear a title like Hobo with a Shotgun, certain concepts come to mind. You envision a down and dirty slice of gratuity, propriety and common decency thrown out the window for a balls to the wall, all out anarchic experience. You don’t envision saccharine subtexts, weird Sin City allusions (our hero seems to be ‘blessed’ with the same confused brain as Mickey Rourke’s Marv - and he loves to mention it), and the last act arrival of what looks like rejects from a futuristic renaissance fair. Director Jason Eisener has an interesting approach - no explanations, no rationale for why this town is so completely depraved - but then falls back on the standard Hollywood style licks (shaky cam, erratic edits, and over the top angles) to build his resume.
At least Hauer has a handle on everything. Considering his age - he is 67 and still going strong - and the part he is playing, he “gets” the joke and essays its needs perfectly. The scene where he fondles a lawn mower like a relic from a melancholy past is priceless, and he has conversations with Abby that indicate an amount of depth the film otherwise avoids. Sure, at the end, he is required to do little except blow away the bad guys and crack wise, but the production couldn’t have found a better lead. As for everyone else…it’s hard to comment. They’re compelling, if not particularly up to Hauer’s level. This is especially true of Slick and Ivan who come across like the comic relief in a perverted take on a John Hughes film. They’re like kids in a crooked candy store - and Hauer is dishing out the lollipops with razor blades.
Frankly, it’s hard to completely hate Hobo with a Shotgun. Certainly it defies logic, reasoning, taste, etiquette, and all manner of moviemaking normality. Yes, it can’t quite seem to keep a coherent thought in its cinematic head for longer than ten seconds and the ADD-addled conceit keeps us from readily enjoying the entire revenge motif. In addition, the film is a formidable tease, causing the knowledgeable genre fan to free associate on what might have (and more importantly, should have) been. Like trying to recreate the failure vibe of an Ed Wood film, or copying Hammer’s horror past, the exploitation mimickry of Hobo with a Shotgun is non-organic. While forced and flawed, it still offers a bloody good time - just not the passion pit point the filmmakers think they are making