I was able to view Hobo with a Shotgun (2011) via the Zune Video application on XBOX Live Marketplace as an On-Demand rental. I was perusing the selection in Zune Video this morning and was intrigued when I saw this film's title. I clicked the selection for further information and watched a preview which featured star Rutger Hauer. My interest piqued, I went to look up more information on the film at the Internet Movie Database. From that site I learned that Hobo with a Shotgun (2011) is a feature-length film of one of the fake trailers shown in between Planet Terror and Death Proof as part of the theatrical release of Grindhouse (2007). I never saw Grindhouse during its theatrical run, so I had no idea that this release was inspired by that fake trailer. The director of Hobo with a Shotgun is Jason Eisener who also directed the fake trailer for the Grindhouse release. As this film flows from the Grindhouse universe, I believe that it is at least arguable that any criticism of the film will invite comparisons to other films, as the genesis of the Grindhouse films want to recreate and evoke a specific cinema of old. However, it seems that most readers find obscure, film-geeky references irritating, and I will be only making general comparisons in the following review. None, I hope, is too geeky. Without further ado--
Rutger Hauer is the hobo and rides into a new town on a boxcar, freight train. The actual name of the town alludes me, because often street signs and the like have the first portion of the town's name stricken, and words like "Scum" and "Fuck" are graffittied over. Hauer's character grabs a shopping cart and begins to collect recyclable material, while taking in the sights of his new town. It's pretty fucked up. There's an asshole with a video camera, filming two homeless people fighting, and he waves some cash in Hauer's direction to get in on the action. (Thank God that there aren't people in the real world like this). The street life really livens up when a bloodied man with a manhole wrapped around his neck runs frantically into the street seeking help. Two stooges in a hotrod sports car roll up to confront the guy, Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman). These two stooges are the sons and henchmen of the local crime boss, Drake (Brian Downey). Drake appears and wants to set an example by offing the manhole-draped victim in front of everyone. Repulsed and intrigued, Hauer's hobo follows Slick to his den to learn more. Within Slick accosts local prostitute, Abby (Molly Dunsworth), and Hauer's hobo saves her from a vile fate. The hobo brings Slick into the local police department but is greeted by corruption. Now bloodied and beaten, the hobo hits the streets and finds Abby. She shows the hobo kindness and tends to his wounds. Soon after, the hobo is inspired and goes to the pawnshop to purchase a lawnmower (after degrading himself for the money). While in the pawn shop, some ski-mask toting thugs pop in for a robbery. The hobo abandons the idea of a lawnmower and grabs the shotgun. The hobo loses his shit, and blast, blast, a vigilante is born.
Ever watched Troma movies from the 80s, like Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke 'Em High? If you haven't, then Hobo with a Shotgun will serve as an adequate representative, as I believe 80s Troma films are its true inspiration. Troma films are wonderfully offensive; not necessarily because they are graphically violent and excessive (they certainly are though) but because of the vehicles delivering the violence. Most of the Troma villains of those 80s films are the asshole icons of our youth: the bully. Even if we weren't their victims, these are the kind of people most wish would go away, for like forever. When you see Ivan and Slick in Hobo, they are the quintessential cool-kid bullies: varsity jackets and Ray Bans and slicked-back hair. They love making stupid jokes and love beating people up. In Troma fashion, however, they are full-on sick psychopaths. At Slick's den, Ivan asks Slick to check this out: Ivan has a victim strapped to a chair with the victim's bare foot over a hole. With a sledgehammer and a squishy smash, Ivan turns the victim's foot into piecemeal. Slick's not impressed.
The most impressive aspect of Hobo with a Shotgun is the photography by film director and cinematographer, Karim Hussain. He is really able to capture the look of those 80s low-budget features. The saturated colors, the tracking shots side by side with the handheld work, and the odd distorted look from a wide-angle lens in a close-up. Hobo with a Shotgun looks like it was shot on Super-8 or 16mm and blown-up. It gives the film a washed-out, cheap feel which only compliments the action. I actually was impressed to see smoke-machine work in the background in Hobo, knowing that those machines got quite the workout in the 80s from low-budget cinema to music videos.
Beyond its visual appeal or perhaps because of its visual appeal, Hobo with a Shotgun kept me numb during its whole running time--either because it is so slick and rich visually, one cannot help but to look at it; or either because so much detail is put into the visuals and the style, Hobo cannot transcend being cosmetic. Here is my last comparison: When I use the words, "vigilante" and "street prostitute," is there a famous film which comes to mind? In that film, two disassociated characters are actually able to achieve emotional intimacy and a human connection, despite the fucked-up circumstances around them. Hobo wants to recreate the feelings from this relationship, but cannot quite do it. For example, in one scene, Abby gets injured and is in the hospital. By this point in the film, the hobo and Abby have formed a bond. As a gesture of kindness or love, the hobo gives Abby some flowers--some dead weeds and dandelions in a disposable drinking cup. The sentiment is genuine, but like the entire relationship, it is never felt. Hobo can never transcend its cosmetic qualities. I suppose that the details are so well-done that one cannot get past looking deeper into them.
With no accuracy at all can I judge others sensibility or sensitivity, but I would be remiss not to mention how violent Hobo is. Hobo is violent with violent-in-italics violent. Its runtime will make you desensitized to violence. I might have made my point. Also, I watched Hobo alone in the comfort of my home. I have no idea how this film will play to a packed audience (according to the film's official site, it opens theatrically wide on May 6th). Perhaps the energy of a crowded movie theatre will fuel the action. When the hobo grabs the shotgun and starts blasting people, I can see people cheering; or when some gross-out moment occurs or a bad joke delivered, I can see people giving an uncomfortable laugh. Rutger Hauer is a brilliant actor and gives another stellar performance. I also quite like Dunsworth as Abby. She's really sassy and cute and never comes off as ditzy. Not one that I want to revisit again, but I'm sure Hobo will provoke a reaction out of all those who see it.