Stretched out to feature-length from a fake trailer that originally won a contest associated with Quentin Tarantino’s ill-fated Grindhouse, director Jason Eisener’s Hobo With A Shotgun delivers exactly what it promises. A hobo has a shotgun. You get what you paid for with a picture like this. The question is whether it was worth paying for at all.
I’m on record as worrying about Tarantino’s fetishization of crap. Sure, what made him such a remarkable figure in the 1990s was the way he melded a love of post-modern French New Wave aesthetics with a hankering for old-school exploitation pictures. Tarantino made it cool to enjoy garbage movies. But I’m starting to wonder if this legacy might be slightly toxic.
Hobo With A Shotgun is gross, ugly and completely depraved. Rutger Hauer stars as the title character, who dearly wants enough money to buy a lawnmower and start a landscaping business. Instead he finds himself stranded in an amoral town owned by sicko thugs. A crime boss calling himself “The Drake” runs roughshod over any sense of common decency, with corrupt cops owning the neighborhoods and his two dimwit sons commandeering streets that run red with blood.
How long will it take Hauer’s thoughtful, philosophical drifter to decide that enough is enough and finally deal out some high-caliber justice? Well, the movie’s title is kind of a spoiler on that front.
Shot in lurid Technicolor, the picture apes the early 1980’s direct-to-video Troma Films aesthetic so flawlessly, I assumed I was watching a period piece. Hauer is a fine actor, rather brilliant in Blade Runner , but his career has been studded with Z-grade nonsense just like this, so that his casting amounts to a monumental in-joke. Much like the movie.
The Drake’s nasty sons wear Ray-Bans and dated Run DMC hip-hop gear, running amok while raping and pillaging with impunity. It’s a vile town that looks more like an apocalyptic wasteland, with citizens freely murdering homeless people in a sociopolitical sideline that director Eisener doesn’t seem to have much interest in following up.
As the local hooligans stick folks’ heads inside manholes and slutty women bathe in arterial spray from the bloodshed, we’re all just waiting for this hobo to finally get his shotgun and exact some ugly vengeance.
Token signifiers abound. The charming Molly Dunsworth grants the picture far more emotion that it deserves, as a whore with a heart of gold who comes to our hero’s rescue. Like everybody else in Hobo With A Shotgun , she’s playing a tongue-in-cheek concept instead of a character, but at least she’s trying.
Hauer has a handful of insane monologues that feel weirdly improvised. His character seems to be strangely fixated on grizzly bears for reasons that right now escape me. Credit where it’s due, the actor completely commits to the role, delivering a full-bore Method performance in the midst of all this nonsense.
Eventually, some tricked-out henchmen called “The Plague” arrive in medieval armor, suggesting a mash-up of The Road Warrior and Pulp Fiction ’s gimp. According to the film’s cockeyed mythology, they’re legendary enough to inspire a standup, retro-arcade video game, and rumor has it these characters are getting their own spinoff.
It’s all very nasty, gonzo and gross, doing an excellent job of replicating that trashy, long-gone aesthetic of something you might have rented on a whim 20 years ago back when video stores still existed. My question remains, as it did during Tarantino’s Grindhouse project. What’s the point?
Why go to all this trouble, mimicking lousy, long-forgotten movies from a bygone era? The cheesy retro-synthesizer score is a flawless throwback to the VHS age, and the loud, egregious overacting by most of the villains is note-perfect, for this sort of thing.
Yet I still wonder why I should care? Robert Rodriguez’s Machete already proved that perhaps these fake trailers should remain fake trailers. What we giggle at in the short form becomes wearying at feature length. Eisener is a gifted mimic, but brings nothing to the table of his own.
At his best, Tarantino infuses junk-movie tropes with a sly sensibility and post-modern intellect. Hobo With A Shotgun doesn’t bother with any of that clever stuff. It’s a proudly trashy exploitation picture that has no reason for being. I’m sorry, but I rented enough of this shit when I was in elementary school. I don’t get the nostalgia.
Director: Jason Eisener