By Matt Smith
I’ve now seen Jason Eisener’s Hobo With A Shotgun twice, and I still can’t tell you my exact feelings on it. It’s certainly entertaining, and Rutger Hauer’s performance is completely dedicated and makes the whole endeavor something more than the sum of its parts, but I still don’t think it’s a very good movie. Maybe it’s the greatest midnight movie ever made, as some have claimed, and maybe it isn’t. It certainly is a movie that has to be seen to be believed; an experience unlike any other you will ever have watching a movie, no matter where you fall in your opinion of it. I recommend it, though I make that recommendation a bit begrudgingly.
Originally borne from a fan-made trailer that won a contest to have a fake movie trailer featured in the theatrical release of the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino double-feature Grindhouse, Hobo With A Shotgun was put into development as a feature even before Rodriguez’s similarly-sourced Machete, though it took longer to raise funds, and thus, more than three years after Grindhouse, we are just now seeing the final product of its creators insanity. I have never seen a film that so blatantly tells you all you need to know about it in plot, character development, production design and every other aspect of its existence in its title alone. And still mildly enjoyed it. For those in doubt, the movie is very much about Hauer’s hobo wielding a shotgun.
Rutger Hauer’s aforementioned jobless and titular anti-hero wanders into a town overrun by violence and hate and ridiculous, despicable characters who all over-act like they’re in the worst piece of garbage you could ever rent from a video store circa 1985. We’re also introduced to Abby, a whore with a heart of gold who helps the hobo on his quest, and Drake and his sons, Ivan and Slick, who run the town with fear and violence. After a first act that sees a man decapitated while trapped by a manhole cover, a bum-fight and some glass eating for money, and a pawn shop robbery in which a baby is threatened at gun point, we get down to brass tacks, the hobo has had enough, and starts killing everyone perpetuating any sort of crime in gloriously violent and explicitly gory fashion. Around the one hour mark, though, it becomes all too clear that this is all the movie has going for it (and Hauer, but more on him in a minute), and even though it’s played for laughs and pure shock value, it becomes too much for its own good.
The film is constantly in danger of turning into a tedious, somewhat boring and entirely overdone exercise in grindhouse excess, though thankfully it never becomes unwatchable, mostly due to the completely dedicated performances of its cast, who mimic the B-movie aesthetic of the late-70s and early-80s perfectly (and some of whom may not be mimicking at all, but that’s neither here nor there – they work). It was also processed in post-production in Technicolor, which nails the look of the pictures it is drawing on for inspiration, and helps with the comic book blues, yellows, and reds that are laid on thick throughout the movie, making them pop from the screen and setting the aesthetic tone for the utterly outlandish movie that employs them.
Molly Dunsworth’s standout performance as Abby, however, seems to be the only instance of reality threatening to rear its head in the proceedings, and she consequently provides the film with much of its real weight, and gives us a glimpse at what this movie might look like if played a little more straight (something I’d like to see, honestly). Abby goes through a lot in this film, from having her neck sawed on to even more disgusting things, and Dunsworth sticks with them like a seasoned pro. I fully expect to see her in plenty of other, bigger roles in the future.
And then there’s Hauer. A screen legend, Rutger Hauer’s acting credits on IMDB total 134 since he made his debut in 1969. He has played every type of role imaginable, from romantic leads to action heroes (his work in the 80s is particularly terrific, with major roles in Blade Runner, Ladyhawke, The Hitcher and Blind Fury that are career defining), and here he has once again chosen a project that allows his totally bat-shit sensibilities and reckless abandon as an actor to bloom in full glory. His hobo may mete out justice one shell at a time as one of the newspapers in the film tells us, but he also genuinely cares about the citizens of the town, renamed Scum Town on one of the billboards on the way in, and also about Abby.
There’s a touching and simultaneously utterly ridiculous scene between the two after she helps him after an encounter with Drake’s kids, when she tucks him into bed after giving him a fresh shirt (with a bear on it) and he tells her about bears. “One swipe and he’d take your face right off your skull. And you’d die from it. That’s why you should never hug bears.” Absurdist, metaphorical and drawing directly from the interactions between the hobo and Abby, this piece of dialogue is actually among the best in the film. It is exactly the type of line one would expect in an exploitation film, and is also one that is layered and provides a clear understanding of the hobo/Abby relationship. And it’s really, really funny.
Sadly, funny is about all Hobo With A Shotgun has going for it. If it weren’t for Hauer and Dunsworth, and the small amount of chemistry that exists between them as a comedy duo, this movie would be damn near unwatchable. It still gets perilously close at times, though a beer or two definitely helps. I really love classic exploitation and grindhouse flicks, and think that the film Grindhouse did about as good a job at replicating the experience as possible. My problem with Hobo With A Shotgun is similar to the one I have with Machete – it’s too fully aware of what it is, and pushes the joke a bit too far, becoming long in tooth and not necessarily in impact. And while Eisener hasn’t made a bad movie, because I certainly found myself laughing a lot of the time, and I haven’t even begun to hint at the really crazy things that happen like the introduction of the armor-clad killing duo The Plague and the fact that there’s an octopus toward the end of the movie (yes, you read that right), I can’t say it’s necessarily a good one either.