Hobo with a Shotgun

Reviewed By Rob Gonsalves
Posted 04/15/11 23:47:52

"Is it possible to have a pure experience with this movie?"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

The best and worst thing I can say about "Hobo with a Shotgun" is that it tries hard. Really, really hard. Almost too hard.

Jason Eisener, who directed Hobo as well as the Grindhouse contest-winning fake trailer that inspired it, has made a film that belongs on videocassette, in an oversize cardboard box. That it's going to join many movie geeks' Blu-ray collection in the near future feels wrong. This movie is too lovingly grubby to be all shiny and digital. The premise is sheer '70s, the style and attitude more or less '80s Troma without the Lloyd Kaufman intro. The blood, gushing and misting and spritzing, turns the Nova Scotia exteriors into a Jackson Pollock remix of RoboCop. The bad guys rocket far beyond cartoon villainy.

But at the film's center is a rock, Rutger Hauer as the stoic Hobo, who wants only to pass through and perhaps collect enough scratch to buy a $49.95 lawnmower. Hauer invests the Hobo with a rotgut dignity, even when he's on his knees chewing glass shards for twenty dollars. With Hauer in the role, Hobo's manic gore-streaked hyperbole begins to make sense. Aside from a kindly prostitute he befriends, the Hobo is the only normal character around, and I began to suspect that we're seeing the crime sprawl of Hope City — renamed alternately Scum City or Fuck City in graffiti — through the Hobo's cracked filter. The film's insanity is his insanity. He may not actually be the most normal person onscreen. He might not even have a shotgun.

In the film's/Hobo's reality, though, he does, and he uses it on a variety of scum. The city is ruled by a mob boss who has the entire police force in his pocket. His two sons (Uday and Qusay?) waltz around trying to strike fear in the population, who are mostly seen as mindless rabble. Many people die, in public Caligula-like executions, while trollops bathe in their blood. Into this chaos comes the Hobo, a smelly Mifune or Eastwood, pushing his shopping cart and not wanting to get involved until the violence touches the hooker he likes (so he's also a smelly Travis Bickle). Hobo is a compendium of highlights, tropes and clichιs from a thousand 42nd-Street fleapit flicks; it's the film equivalent of Robin Bougie's zine Cinema Sewer. Bougie, Eisener, the Soska Sisters — Canada of late has birthed a new generation of grindhouse babies who dig the wildly impolite exploitation of America's drive-in past.

Anyone who would see a movie titled Hobo with a Shotgun in the first place won't be overly fazed by its gallons of gore. Past a certain point it's just surreal, having nothing in common with real pain and death. It's just red paint flying. There may, however, be a mild pang of is-this-it? disenchantment. The fake trailer, and then the real trailer for the real film, existed in an internet viral zone entirely separate from the movie. The title, the poster, the advertising — you almost don't need an actual movie. When you watched Jason Eisener's original 2008 Hobo with a Shotgun trailer, you essentially made the rest of the movie in your head; you extrapolated from what was there and envisioned something amazing, and you told your buddies you'd see the shit out of that film. Eisener probably said the same thing.

Now Eisener has made that film, and people are seeing the shit out of it, but does it compare with the epic badassery in their heads? Does it compare with the movie in Eisener's head? You never really finish a movie like this, you just run out of time and money. And Eisener had $3 million, which is $3 million more than you and I have, but it also doesn't go very far these days — not with all those special effects and a star who probably asked (and was fully worth) at least a low six figures. And then there's all this ironic appreciation buzzing around the thing — Eisener may have been working sincerely, in his way, out of a love for grindhouse trash, but Hobo with a Shotgun may attract, in part, the same derisive audience that made Snakes on a Plane an internet meme for a few months. So there's a tension between the movie this really is — cut almost exactly from the same cloth as its forebears — and the movie so many viewers either mockingly or genuinely want and expect it to be. You can't just stumble across this in the mom-and-pop video store any more. It comes with too much preemptive laughter attached, both with it and at it.

And that's too bad, because there's fun to be had here, and it hasn't escaped my notice that the films "Hobo" emulates also came out of an era of paranoia and economic murder. But if it plays too much like a sim, instead of the thing itself, it's partly the film's fault and partly ours. Honest trash like "Doomsday" and "Drive Angry" comes and goes fast. We seem to need extra incentive to watch stuff like this — the humble backstory of a contest-winning fake trailer, an ad campaign that carries on the grindhouse aesthetic, an almost farcically it-is-what-it-is title. "Hobo" both is and isn't what it is. There's the movie itself, and then there's all the crap we bring into it.

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