Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
June 2011

Homeless and deadly

The grindhouse roots of 'Hobo With a Shotgun' quickly grow tiresome

Hobo With a Shotgun
Magnet Releasing
Director: Jason Eisener
Screenplay: John Davies, Jason Eisener and Rob Cotterill
Starring: Rutger Hauer, Molly Dunsworth, Brian Downey, Gregory Smith, Nick Bateman, Jeremy Akerman and Pasha Ebrahimi
Now playing in limited release and VOD
Opened June 3, 2011
(out of four)

Oh, Hobo With a Shotgun - how blatantly you yearn to be a cult classic. There's probably nothing in the world you'd like more than becoming a mainstay on the midnight movie circuit for years to come. It's charming, really.

Well, it would be charming, if it weren't so desperate. It won't surprise anyone who has seen the film to discover that the genesis of the project was a fake trailer contest that accompanied the marketing and release of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez' Grindhouse back in 2007. It apparently won the contest, and has now been made into a full-length movie. (Me, I'm still waiting for Don't!)

Indeed, Hobo With a Shotgun fits right in with the exploitation-flick ambience of Grindhouse, and I probably would have enjoyed a three-minute trailer version of the concept. But just because director Jason Eisener can do blood-soaked irony (or irony-soaked blood?) for three minutes doesn't mean it can hold up for an entire film, and for my money I don't think he pulls it off. Judging by the reaction so far, others clearly disagree.

The feature begins with opening credits straight out of a Tarantino movie, as the titular hobo (Rutger Hauer, not yet with titular shotgun in hand) hitches a ride on a train into a new town (Hope Town, it is called, ho ho) and discovers a carnival of uncontrolled violence, madness and mayhem. The homeless get much of the most sadistic punishment, but those who are unable to pay their debts get quite a nasty comeuppance as well.

What Eisener seems to be going for with the borderline-apocalyptic wasteland of Hope Town is something similar to the tongue-in-cheek satire of The Running Man or Natural Born Killers. But he doesn't have nearly the wit or the restraint of the latter (yes, even a film as over-the-top as NBK was restrained, or at least as restrained as it had to be) to pull it off.

When he introduces a savage character called "The Drake" (Brian Downey; and by the way, is that a Seinfeld reference?), a white-suited psychopath who runs Hope Town as basically an extended piece of torture-as-performance art, the character doesn't seem frightening (even by silly B-movie standards) or even particularly evil. He's just loud and annoying.

Ditto his two bloodthirsty sons, who have designs on inheriting Hope Town one day and will do anything to please dear old Dad. But they're not funny, and they're certainly not scary. The performances never get beyond fulfilling our first impressions. Nor, for the most part, does the rest of the film.

I give Eisener credit for knowing exactly what he wants, and the garish neons of his visuals serve as an appropriate style for his setting - equal parts trashy and unsettling.

One of the film's major satirical targets is reality television. This is exemplified by a pair of guys armed with a video camera who take to the streets every day baiting homeless men into getting battered, bludgeoned and bloodied by various means, all for a few bucks. That proves to be one of the main things that ignites the hobo's fire within, and turns him into a vengeful killing machine.

Hauer, who has done his share of trashy movies, fills the hobo role nicely. Even when the film is not particularly interesting, Hauer himself sometimes draws us in anyway.

The same cannot be said for his female companion, a prostitute (what else?) named Abby (Molly Dunsworth), who takes the hobo into her apartment one night out of kindness, earning his absolute loyalty and protection from then on. Dunsworth's acting isn't even enjoyably bad - the kind of bad you like to see in a B-movie - it's just bland and forgettable.

I confess I'm more than a little charmed by a duo that shows up in the film's final half-hour - a tag team dressed in medieval garb that goes by the moniker "The Plague." In fact, I love that. If the rest of the movie had that kind of fantastically strange and unexpected cleverness, maybe Hobo With a Shotgun wouldn't have been such a bore.

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