To do a B-movie right, to straddle without crossing the precarious line between hilarity and stupidity, is no small feat. Jason Eisener achieves it with Hobo with a Shotgun, which reaches heights of comic literal-mindedness that the comparatively mild Snakes on a Plane could not. This is, yes, a movie about a hobo with a shotgun, but it’s also an inspired parody of the post-apocalyptic whack-a-mole revenge flick, a film with stronger than expected acting and an ideal dose of energized mania.
The immortal Rutger Hauer stars as the titular hobo, who rides the rails into a lawless town populated by seething, ranting maniacs of all stripes. The debauchery is too much to handle – the hobo’s first day in, he’s greeted by a man filming bum fights and an extended set piece in which resident super villain The Drake (Brian Downey) beheads his brother in full view of the public, after which his scantily clad mistress gyrates and devours the fountain of blood. The baddie and his sons (Nick Bateman and Gregory Smith), nightmarish versions of ’80s Tom Cruise, exert a stranglehold over this decaying, crime-ridden megalopolis, where plumes of smoke pour over the streets and gritty, yellowed industrial building mix with seedy punk-populated arcades.
When the villains turn on the fragile Abby (Molly Dunsworth), a prostitute the hobo is sure was meant be a teacher, it all becomes too much for our hero. Before you can say “get pumping,” he’s on a holy shotgun-fueled war of vengeance. Hauer’s hobo is a true man of the people, standing up for the homeless everywhere, answering indignities by blowing holes through all perpetrators. All gristle and steel, Hauer snarls and seethes his way through the part with such conviction that you can’t help but think what a mistake it’d be to fuck with his hobo. Same goes for his co-stars and their respective roles.
Eisener depicts the hobo’s quest for justice with frenzied passion, upping the crazy ante wherever possible. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, is off-limits. Schoolchildren burn; naked women sadistically beat the hell out of a hanging man; glass is eaten; a teen’s face is shoved into a mound of cocaine that’d make Scarface blush. Prudish types will be turned off, but then no prudish types would likely be caught dead at a movie called Hobo with a Shotgun in the first place.
The truth is, this filmmaker knows exactly what this sort of self-aware grindhouse fare needs. His movie is intense, deranged and utterly unafraid of tumult. Serious conceptual risks, the sort that could easily backfire, instead repeatedly pay off. Exaggerating ridiculous archetypes – the villains aren’t just bad they’re BAD – while gleefully emphasizing some of the choicer knee-slapper lines in screenwriter John Davies’s script full of unchecked insanity (“What do you do when life hands you razors? You attach them to a baseball bat!”), Eisener wholeheartedly embraces the B-movie spirit. This Hobo will live on.
The Upside: The movie is a hilarious, inspired B-movie.
The Downside: Well, I guess there’s sort of a ceiling on how great a film called Hobo with a Shotgun can be.
On the Side: The film premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, proving once again (after Black Dynamite and so many others) that its programmers know how to pick midnight movies. It’s also available on video-on-demand.