First, a jumbo-sized caveat. If you’re squeamish, easily offended, revolted by mindless destruction and horrified by the use of violence as entertainment, you should avoid Hobo With a Shotgun. Perhaps you already figured that much from the title. If, on the other hand, you appreciate a droll and savvy satire of the melodramatic excesses of seventies vigilante thrillers from a filmmaker who clearly knows his stuff, then get in the ticket line.
The director is Nova Scotia native Jason Eisener, who won a fake-trailer competition for Hobo With a Shotgun that became part of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's double-bill film, Grindhouse (2007). Like Tarantino and Rodriguez, Eisener is a director who doesn’t recognize the phrase “enough already,” though his tone here may actually be surer than the two Grindhouse films, Tarantino’s Death Proof and Rodriguez’s Planet Terror. His approach to genre homage consists of short blasts of staggering overkill, smartly balanced with a keen sense of the absurd.
The taciturn Dutch actor Rutger Hauer (who played similar roles in The Hitcher and Blind Fury) plays the mumbling, grizzled titular hobo, with no hint of irony. He arrives in a small crime-infested town, the name of which is something like Fun Town, but ruder. The town is under the thumb of an evil crime lord who goes by the title The Drake (Brian Downey), first seen arranging the inventive beheading of an underling.
The Drake is a dancing, cackling, white-suited grotesque who seems to have stepped out of a Dick Tracy comic. Weirder still are his two preppie sons, smart Slick and stupid Ivan (Gregory Smith and Nick Bateman), who seem to be channelling slightly different versions of the Wayfarer-wearing, chopper-flashing, younger Tom Cruise.
When our Hobo hero rescues a golden-hearted prostitute, Abby (Molly Dunsworth), from one of the murderous brothers, he becomes the target of their punishment. Abby helps nurse him back to health. Somewhat dementedly, he figures that she should be a schoolteacher. First though, perhaps, they’ll go into the lawn-care business together.
While checking out his favourite mower at the local pawn shop, the Hobo witnesses a robbery in progress. Instead of the mower, he picks up a shotgun. Carnage ensues – repeatedly – with the town providing a ready supply of pimps, sick filmmakers and a pedophile Santa, all worthy of his wrath. Sometimes they’re the Hobo’s keen supporters (Sample headline: “Hobo stops begging, demands change”). Sometimes they’re a mob on a manhunt for the monster.
In its mocking but acutely observed style, Hobo is a well-designed cinematic mess: There are whiplash jump cuts, patches where the sound almost disappears, and the whole thing is projected in a queasy, faded Technicolor. Meanwhile, the plot absurdities pile up with running time: In one sequence Abby is nearly decapitated, and then a scene later she appears in a hospital bed with a neat bandage on her throat. In the category known as “classic,” we can file the scene where the Hobo stops before a maternity-ward window and delivers a heartfelt soliloquy that leaves the newborn babies screaming in terror.
As it progresses, Hobo With a Shotgun takes on a hazy, dream-like quality, suggesting the production values of some forgotten company where everyone involved was too broke or high to manage continuity. Unexpectedly, we are introduced to an army of Star Wars-like robot soldiers, and then later, a giant octopus. At this point, Hobo With a Shotgun is almost worthy of Guy Maddin, an affectionate re-creation of the kind of film that never actually existed, except in the fevered imagination of a devoted fan.
Hobo With a Shotgun
- Directed by Jason Eisener
- Written by John Davies
- Starring Rutger Hauer and Molly Dunsworth
- Classification: R