The Best Movie Critic + review

Hobo with a Shotgun

Hi there, Ben here. A long, long time ago in 2007 there is a movie that two of my friends and I saw called Grindhouse. This Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino co-helmed double feature was a nostalgic throwback to 1970s-era grindhouse and exploitation movies and even included fake trailers for other faux-exploitation flicks before each of the features. Though my two friends and I liked Grindhouse an awful lot, we were apparently the only people who saw the movie. It was a huge flop, and is still considered by most to be a stumbling block in Tarantino’s career and a misstep in Rodriguez’s career that he still hasn’t completely recovered from. But because we live in a bizarro universe where the laws of fiscal success are not enforced consistently, somehow Rodriguez managed to come up with financing to develop one of Grindhouse’s fake trailers into a feature length movie, and last fall we saw the release of Machete, the violent, sexed up tale of an illegal Mexican immigrant on a bloody trail of revenge against the U.S. government and vigilante militiamen. Now we have the release of Hobo with a Shotgun, another feature length adaptation of one of the Grindhouse fake trailers.

Back before the release of Grindhouse, Tarantino and Rodriguez hosted a contest where anyone could submit their own homemade fake grindhouse trailer. The winning trailer would be shown before the movie for its Canadian release. In what is perhaps one of the most unique routes to movie director-dom, Hobo with a Shotgun head-honcho Jason Eisener won the contest, and his trailer was so well liked that he actually ended up getting to make the damned thing, and scored Rutger Hauer to play the titular hobo to boot. People complain a lot these days about how the movie industry has gotten so conservative that nothing but sequels and remakes get the green light. But it’s nice to know that somewhere on the periphery of Hollywood an ultraviolent movie about a deadly hobo can still make its way into theaters, even if it is in limited release.

Whereas Robert Rodriguez struggled with expanding Machete into a feature’s length worth of material – and ended up padding his movie with a distracting array of subplots - Eisener keeps Hobo’s 80 minutes entirely focused on what made the trailer so appealing in the first place: a creepy hobo fucking shit up. All additional plot points are in service of that primary purpose. The movie opens with the nameless hobo riding into town in a boxcar. It becomes immediately obvious that this is one fucked up town, where crime and violence run rampant. Theft, murder, rape, and public execution, and that’s all within the first ten minutes. The level of madness that grips this town is one of the best parts about Hobo. These gang members and hooligans are like some fever dream exaggeration of the roughnecks from The Warriors combined with the punk miscreants from Class of 1984 and the gang-bangers from Predator 2. This is “a world gone mad” in the tradition of the best 80s schlock classics. There is a scene in a “torture arcade” that blew my mind. It’s like every fear your parents ever had about “bad kids” dialed up to eleven. All the hobo wants is to buy a lawnmower and start his own landscaping business, but fate has other plans. After an escalating series of harassments, the hobo buys a shotgun and goes to work, cleaning up town one punk at a time.

Whereas Grindhouse and Machete are very specifically 70s grindhouse homages, Hobo has much more of an 80s vibe, which is a great way to expand the series, whether the choice was conscious or not. Urban decay, evil hoodlums, and demonic punks are much more Regan-era concerns, and the shotgun-wielding hobo is a fascist response. Arcade games and arcade game characters are prominently featured. Rather than following Grindhouse’s battered film print aesthetic, Hobo looks like Direct to Video feature straight off the shelf of your favorite mom and pop video store as a kid. The hospital scene could be right out of Inferno.

I first saw Hobo with a Shotgun at 6am in the middle of a 24 hour movie fest. I didn’t fall asleep during it, but there were definitely some tough moments. In my sleep-deprived lunatic state, I somehow remembered the hobo being a kind of “hobo with a heart of gold,” a hero who had been dealt a bad hand by fate. Seeing the movie a second time I realized much to the filmmakers’ credit, no, he is really just a crazy hobo. Rutger Hauer turns in a brilliant performance in that he never really quite humanizes the hobo. In the movie’s most “touching” scene, the hobo spends the night in the home of a hooker he saves from being raped and killed. As she tucks him in, he asks, “Can I tell you something? About bears?” Totally deadpan, he warns her, “If you get too close to a bear, it will rip your face. Right off. And that’s why you never hug a bear.” Maybe it’s a metaphor. On the other hand, maybe it’s just fucking insane hobo rambling.

I would say that Hobo with a Shotgun exceeds expectations in that it’s amazing it works at all. With the filmmakers’ lack of experience combined with lack of budget combined with the wafer thin concept, this could have been an unwatchable disaster. And while at times Hobo has questionable production value, it is never, ever unwatchable. Even the best possible version of a movie about a vengeful hobo could only ever have limited appeal, and Hobo with a Shotgun meets those expectations without necessarily rising above them. It’s a Hobo good time, and that’s about it. Take it or leave it.

Fun fact: There is a Double Dragon-modded Hobo with a Shotgun video game you can download off of iTunes. I played the arcade version at SXSW and it was also a Hobo good time!

-Ben

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