REVIEW: Hobo with a Shotgun [2011]

Score: 5/10 | ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 86 minutes | Release Date: March 25th, 2011 (Canada)
Studio: Magnet Releasing
Director(s): Jason Eisener
Writer(s): John Davies

“I’m gonna sleep in your bloody carcass tonight”

Put on your snap bracelets, grab your shotgun, and prepare to take back your city. When a crazed lunatic is running the police, his sons wreaking havoc on the citizens without provocation, and the population shaking in silent fear so as not to be the next victim at the hands of their brutality, sometimes it takes a stranger to finally make a stand. Whether that vigilante is a homeless man straight off the train shouldn’t matter, his brand of justice is the only thing between hope and certain death for your cowardly visage watching from the sidelines. This Hobo with a Shotgun is done being the butt of jokes, finished with the disrespect, and ready to clean the streets of the scum ruling them.

Adapted from an award-winning Grindhouse trailer as part of Robert Rodriguez’s South by Southwest competition in Austin, TX—and one that actually aired during certain Canadian screenings of his and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse double feature—Jason Eisener’s feature length debut does its best to feel as though it was unearthed from the 1970s. With an opening credit sequence of straightforward footage showing Rutger Hauer staring with purpose outside his moving train car, layered on by bold, sans serif yellow type, the instrumental score playing behind it setting the exploitation tone, the film does very little to pretend it is anything more than a pulpy actioner straight out of the decade it mimics. There is blood, comically grotesque explosions of body parts, cursing left and right, and some of the broadest, amateurish performances I’ve seen all year. And even though it’s a ton of fun in a shallow, depraved way, there really isn’t anything necessarily redeeming in the final work.

From the first second, over-the-top doesn’t even come close to describe what happens. Hauer’s Hobo walks through the city, passing by a bumfight filmmaker; whores, pimps, and johns; and coke fiends everywhere he looks. Not long after he acquires a shopping cart to stow his belongings, out comes a wild-eyed victim of violence named Logan (Robb Wells). Scared and running for his life with a manhole cover around his neck, no one dares come to his rescue, our titular Hobo hiding in the shadows too, still unaware of the crime surrounding him. It is from this altercation, however, that we discover the hierarchy of rule in ‘Scum’ Town. Crime kingpin The Drake (Brian Downey) is at the top, his extreme brand of live torture porn used to entertain his constituents, the crushing of heads in the street and spilling blood on a whim instilling fear while his sons Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman) stay close behind, playing their own games at the local arcade malleting feet and smashing the human piñata.

The death toll quickly strikes a cord with the Hobo, though, and after sticking his neck out to save a hooker with a heart of gold named Abby (Molly Dunsworth), his citizen’s arrest of the predator (Slick) becomes the last straw in his quest to buy a lawn mower to start a one-man landscaping business. It’s the chief of police (Jeremy Akerman) who lulls him into a false sense of security before revealing his own love of ultra-violence and kinship with The Drake’s minions. Branded and cut up, the Hobo stumbles away, all sense of reality and compassion gone, the $49.99 saved for a mower now purchasing a shotgun instead. Possessing of his tool for cleaning the streets, this nameless seeker of destructive justice begins his rampage, sparing no one in his wake. Pedophile Santas, abusive pimps, and thieving cokeheads scream and beg for mercy before he sends them all to hell.

Hauer impressively manages to act his way through the proceedings, never losing his stern maliciousness. Taking Abby under his wing as the one person in this whole pit of despair worth saving, the two try their best to survive, somehow staying alive through carved chests, severed jugulars, and ice skate stabbed backs. Dunsworth does her best to give her waif some edge, but the eventual monologues they both give lack real punch, their earnestness to makes us believe there is a message under all the blood about how a population can’t sit back and let the world around them implode, never quite rises beyond being tritely misguided. The two continue their fight against the scum attempting to crush their resolve—including a pair of iron clad bounty hunters called The Plague, vicious creatures devoid of emotion and appearing indestructible—to mixed results, the deaths they inflict equally entertaining and disgusting. You’ll laugh as watery organs fly at the camera or blood spurting into the air to rain down on busty women rubbing it into their flesh, all the while wondering why you haven’t walked away to save your own soul from suffering its insanity.

Shot through blue, red, and yellow filters—the film stock perhaps too high quality to really appear as though shot three decades ago—Eisener does his best to maintain a level of authenticity towards his goals. Acquiring the services of Hauer is definitely a testament to his vision, but even that can’t save the whole from languishing in its vile distastefulness. One can only watch so many decapitations before its tedium wins out, the ‘cool’ factor left in the wind. The premise is absurd, the mortality rate extreme, and the miraculous ability of main characters to survive injuries laughably outrageous. And I know that these are exactly the things that will make Hobo with a Shotgun a masterpiece to many, more often than not, I’d have been right there with them. But besides an exaggerated tonal flavor for villainy, a transformation of Abby’s helpless victim to a badass mower blade shield wielding vigilante, and Hauer’s unwavering belief in his character’s righteousness, the film is little more than a parlor trick salivating our desires but never quite paying off.

[1] Rutger Hauer in HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, a Magnet Release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing. Photo credit: Karim Hussain
[2] Robb Wells in HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, a Magnet Release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing. Photo credit: Karim Hussain
[3] Peter Simas in HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, a Magnet Release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing. Photo credit: Karim Hussain.

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