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Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)

Consider the ultraviolet, gleefully vulgar movie Hobo with a Shotgun is the SECOND feature-length film that began life as a fake trailer for the 2007 exploitation opus, Grindhouse. Except this film began as a fan-made trailer to win a Grindhouse contest. Director and co-writer Jason Eisener’s winning entry followed a homeless defender of the streets, a hobo who found himself thrust into greatness thanks to oen fortunate shotgun. The two-minute fake trailer became a viral hit, was even attached to Canadian prints of Grindhouse, and Eisener was asked to extend his bloody trailer into an actual movie. He scored Rutger Hauer (Bladerunner, The Hitcher) as the star. finally, an actor from the 1980s who begs for change – on purpose! Hauer’s hobo rides the rails into a very Canadian city (the hookers say “aboot” – it’s cute) discovering an urban landscape overrun by scum. Drug dealers, gangs, pedophiles, crooked cops, all under the thumb of crime boss, the Drake (Brian Downey) and his two sons, Slick and Ivan (Nick Bateman and Gregory Smith). Can one hobo, shotgun in hand, inspire a city to stand up?

Hobo with a Shotgun is a movie that lives up to its very title. It’s a gleeful, jubilantly violent, colorfully over-the-top genre exercise that doesn’t push your nose in its campy excesses. But it is excessive, and to what effect? If you stop to catch your breath, you’ll start to realize that there isn’t a whole lot holding the film together. It barely covers 80 minutes and that’s with a lot of wheezing to get to the finish. The plot is mostly a series of beheadings, stabbings, and, of course, gunshots. Sure it’s a fun throwback and meant to be entertaining due to its homage to awful exploitation films, but it’s a one-joke movie that’s pretty hollow at its center. He’s a hobo, he’s dispensing justice (“one shell at a time” a newscaster reports), that’s about all there is, not that I expect a film with a title like Hobo with a Shotgun to tackle weight philosophical topics (the titular hero seems like a figure that would give Ayn Rand fits). If somebody wants to go to the effort of making the hobo some metaphorical everyman, lashing out at a society he feels impotent and angrily displaced by, then by all means. This is not a film with commentary in its blood. It lacks the creative consistency of a Black Dynamite or the narrative pulse of a Planet Terror, or the genre-rattling re-purposing of a Tarantino effort (have your pick). But the violence is often brutal and sickeningly clever, sating base appetites.

This is a movie chiefly about grotesque characters, grotesque violence, and grotesquely dark and demented laughs. Luckily, the film has a finely attuned sense of humor that elevates what otherwise might be static genre exercises. The film is fully aware of its outrageousness. One of the Drake’s thuggish sons literally walks around with ice skates on before confronting the hobo of fame. He declares somebody’s going to be “skate raped.” He then uses these unorthodox shoes as an unorthodox weapon. A hooker (Molly Dunsworth) with a heart of gold saves the hobo. He remarks, without a hint of irony: “You’re smart. You should be a teacher.” He then refers to her as a teacher for the rest of the film. They develop a bizarre relationship that involves the shared desire to see a bear in a zoo (no joke). A cop reasons, “Well at least he’s only shooting the dirty cops,” in reference to the hobo, to which the chief responds, irony-free, “We’re all dirty cops!” A pedophile is dressed up as Santa Claus and abducts children, including one who bangs on the back windshield of a car as it drives by our hobo. The fact that it happens not a second later than two or three other incidents of crime, creating a melange of overrun criminality, made me giggle. And some of the jokes in this movie are dark; I’m talking scorched earth dark, but I was howling throughout. Now you know where my sense of humor lies. The newspaper headlines decrying the vigilante uprising have a frenzied penchant for rhyme and overly serious statements that are often hilarious (“Hobo Refuses Money, Demands Change”).

Eisener takes care to make his film look like a relic from the 1970s, from the low-budget mayhem, to the ominous synth-laden score, to the highly saturated film colors that advertise being phony “Technicolor.” His camera is antic, constantly swooping to find its intended target, and the cinematography feels grimy, constantly lit by strong neon colors like Joel Schumacher was a paid consultant. Eisener would do best to settle down a bit at times. His direction is a little too erratic, a little too antsy, like he’s constantly afraid that his audience will turn on him. Hobo with a Shotgun is a loving yet messy and uneven homage to the schlock movies of old, and your enjoyment level of this flick will depend greatly on whether or not you appreciate movies aim low on purpose. The crazy nature of the film, its frenetic pacing, and its strong sense of humor will delight fans of trashy cinema. The rest of the audience will probably just view it as trash.

Hauer is a classic movie tough that actually has a bit of a soul inside those steely blue eyes. He’s an actor that’s been giving small, quietly menacing performances over the last decade. He plays the character completely straight, which makes him far funnier and even somewhat surprisingly sympathetic and less sociopath than a Travis Bickle-esque figure that wants to cleanse society through blood. His dream is to own a lawnmower, which he loftily dreams of opening his own lawn care company. He’s spat on, beaten, and treated without a shred of respect. To many, the hobo is just a nuisance at best and a subhuman lecher at worst. Hauer doesn’t even have to say a word, just hang onto his weary grimace and it says enough about the character. The hobo character makes for an interesting dispenser of justice, though the character is little more than a concept with legs. However, Hauer makes this hobo one for the ages. Way better than the creepy magic hobo from The Polar Express.

The movie is more fun than it should be and at the same time the movie is nothing more than the power of its admittedly awesome title. This seedy, blood-soaked is destined to be an acquired taste for a select few, however, I doubt anyone will randomly stumble into something as provocatively titled as Hobo with a Shotgun. This is a self-aware B-movie celebration of the grindhouse canon while giving is a gentle parody nudge; enough to capture a wink without going into camp. It has enough of a chaotic energy and cracked sense of humor to make up for its narrative deficiencies. Hauer somehow finds a soul inside his cartoon hobo, which is more than I can say about any of the other actors. But when you’re in a movie with burning school children, pedophilic Santas, oddball lines like, “When life gives you razors… make a baseball bat filled with razors,” and a hero who dreams of owning a push mower, well, you’re not expecting Shakespeare.

Nate’s Grade: B

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