HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN (2011)
Movie review by L.L. Soares
When Rutger Hauer first appears, riding a train car into town, in HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, you have no idea how much of a wild ride you’re in for. Unless you know the movie’s backstory. Back in 2007, the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez team-up flick GRINDHOUSE was making the rounds, bringing back the movie double-feature and the spirit of the 1970s grindhouses. Part of the package was a bunch of fake trailers for totally insane movies. The funny thing is, some of these have been made into actual films. The first was Rodriguez’s MACHETE (2010). Now, we’ve got HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN. If you don’t remember seeing that particular trailer when you saw GRINDHOUSE, it’s because the trailer only played in the Canadian version. But it’s been a Youtube sensation since.
The beginning has a real 1970s vibe, from the music to the time-worn weariness of Hauer’s face in that boxcar. But that changes fast. I was kind of hoping for a homage to 70s vigilante flicks like DEATH WISH (1974) and WALKING TALL (1973), but HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN has more in common with those over-the-top Troma films of the 80s. In a way, I was sad to see it get so bizarre and unreal so quickly, in another way, it never stopped being a fun flick. And a big part of that is Hauer’s performance. You can tell this is a man who used to be an A-list actor, since fallen on hard times, just like that Hobo.
So Rutger Hauer walks into town, and finds himself in the middle of hell. The first person he sees is a guy filming bum fights, offering Hauer a ten dollar bill to join in. People openly brutalize other people in the streets, and the proceedings are lorded over by the town kingpin, Drake, who turns all this carnage into a kind of reality show. When someone crosses him, he puts a manhole cover around their necks, drops them into an open sewer, and then decapitates them using a barbed wire noose and the fender of a speeding car or motorcycle. His thug sons hold guns on the onlookers, demanding they applaud the goings-on.
This sounds awful grim on paper (or on a computer screen), but it’s played so over-the-top that it’s downright cartoony (is that Troma honcho Lloyd Kaufman I see among the bystanders?), and that’s kind of what saves this film from being a complete downer.
The Hobo is one of the witnesses to “The Drake Show” and he is horrified by the utter anarchy that surrounds him. This is even worse than the Wild West. Anyone can die at any time, and many do. The majority of the populace are so horrified, they don’t lift a finger to stop things, and most of the police force are on Drake’s payroll.
The Hobo has a dream. He is going to buy a lawnmower at a local pawn shop. He is going to start his own business and stop traveling the rails. He is going to settle down and make a home for himself. What the hell is this guy thinking? This is not the kind of place where you settle down!
After being brutalized himself, and saving the life of a prostitute, who almost becomes another casualty at the hands of Drake’s son Slick (the other son, Ivan, is a complete idiot muscleboy who gets high on hurting people), the Hobo decides to fight back. Instead of that lawn-mower, he buys a shotgun on the wall for the same price. And then he goes about using it.
He starts to make news. He’s single-handedly starting to clean up this hellhole. One man begins to make a difference. Drake is so infuriated he first declares it open season on homeless people, hoping to get rid of the Hobo, then he hires a couple of metal-clad killers who call themselves The Plague to finish things (they look like two low-rent Iron Man wannabes).
The performances are actually pretty good for this kind of thing. I already sang the praises of Hauer, who is pretty much the main reason HOBO exists. Throughout this movie, I found myself wondering why we don’t see him more in big budget Hollywood pictures. He’s certainly good enough.
Brian Downey as the evil Drake is a force of nature. This is a role that is pretty one-dimensionally evil, and could be annoying, but Downey is just terrific. He pretty much steals every scene he’s in, and is a lot of fun, in his own psychotic way. A movie villain can make or break a movie like this, and Downey does his part to make HOBO work.
Molly Dunsworth, as the hooker Abby, is also pretty good. She’s the one Hauer’s hobo decides to protect, and while their relationship isn’t really a romantic one, she makes you believe that Hauer would be so concerned about her welfare. And when the going gets tough, she’s not afraid to help with the fighting.
Director Jason Eisener (with a script he wrote with John Davies and Rob Cotterill), took a simple concept, originally meant to be a joke, and turned it into an entertaining feature film. It’s not a great work of art, but it’s not meant to be. It’s a lot of gore and violence and vengeance, and we’ve seen this kind of thing before, but somehow, it works, in the same way that over-the-top gore cartoons that have been coming out of Japan lately, like TOKYO GORE POLICE and MACHINE GIRL (both from 2008) work. Live-action cartoons where anything can happen, and the camera lens gets splashed with blood a few times along the way.
If you’re into this kind of thing, then you’ll dig HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN. It’s like eating your dessert before dinner, but don’t expect it to have much in the way of nutrients. If this sounds pretty awful to you, then just avoid it. It’s not meant for you, anyway.
Me, I give it three knives.
© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares
Note: HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN has been playing some film festivals around the country and is currently available on cable OnDemand in some cities. I’m not sure if it will get an actual theatrical release or if it will go straight to DVD.
LL Soares gives HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN – 3 knives