During the last act of the felicitously named Hobo With a Shotgun, Rutger Hauer’s eponymous vagrant delivers a speech to a hospital nursery filled with babies that may set your meta-sense tingling. There’s a feeling that Hauer’s almost talking about himself and his own life decisions which have led him to star in a brisk, faux-budget movie meant to recall the “glory” days of low-rent exploitation films and whose basic conceit was established in a fake trailer presented as part of the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez B-sleeze project, Grindhouse. I suppose you could do worse– even when you’re the guy who starred opposite Harrison Ford in Blade Runner two decades ago– but there’s a weird contextual element to the monologue that adds something a little tragic to a film that doesn’t really care about your pity or your emotions.
Hobo With a Shotgun doesn’t really serve much of a purpose in cinematic canon other than to provide an hour and a half outlet in which we can delight in watching Bad Guys painted with the broadest and darkest brushes become very, very dead at the hands of our protagonist. Taking on the task of turning a parade of robbers, murderers, drug dealers, rapists, and child molesters into a mountain of corpses is the hobo of the title, a somewhat benign individual who gets pushed too far and winds up buying the shotgun of the title and going sickhouse on his adopted city’s criminal element. Nothing else to see here, folks– just good old-fashioned bloodletting, done on the cheap and with as much grue as possible.
Jason Eisner’s work here can be praised to a degree; he’s pulled a performance out of Rutger Hauer that’s brilliant in its derangement, and he doesn’t shy away from going the distance with over-the-top violence. Any man willing to immolate a bus full of children on camera is a special kind of twisted, after all. On top of that, Hobo With a Shotgun is fairly well-made, but ultimately Eisner’s failure comes down to one of vision and passion. Maybe one can make a favorable argument for the latter based on his dedication to graphic, creative deconstructions of the human body, but nothing about Eisner’s artistic POV feels unique or special– he’s simply taken a bucket of fake blood and organs and thrown them on the wall while cracking wise about the morally objectionable nature of the material presented for our viewing pleasure.
It’s possible that in the end, satisfying splatter and tongue-in-cheek black humor are the only ingredients necessary for an entertaining exploitation cocktail. If that’s the case, though, Hobo With a Shotgun certainly can’t be called memorable, as it does nothing to distinguish itself from other indie shock films that fall within its milieu. What’s the difference between Hobo and any one Troma film? Heart, soul, and a few million dollars (few Troma films boast studio budgets over $500,000, with the second Toxic Avenger film being the only exception I can call to mind*). What does three million dollars buy you? A glossy sheen overlaying eighty minutes of bad taste and engineered grime. Maybe accusing Hobo of pure fakery is harsh– that budget is still peanuts by today’s standards– but I don’t think it’s out of bounds to suggest that it’s ultimately a work of charlatanism.
Which isn’t to say that it’s all bad; Hauer alone provides a very, very good reason to watch Hobo With a Shotgun, if only because his performance calls into question whether or not he totally understands what kind of movie he’s in and what kind of role he’s playing. That tug-of-war between Hauer either being in on the joke or serving as part of its punchline adds an unexpected and mesmerizing quality to the film, but Hauer’s so deliciously, magnetically demented either way that it hardly matters which side of the argument you end up on. Regrettably, he’s kind of on his own here– apart from Brian Downey’s maniacally energetic villain, the Drake, you probably won’t recognize anybody else in the cast** (not that you necessarily need to), but more importantly you won’t remember them either.
Beating up on Hobo With a Shotgun feels a bit cheap; it’s not exactly a highbrow movie aiming to be much more than a good time in a crowded theater, so it’s tough to go after it just for achieving its few aspirations. Undoubtedly this is a movie made with shrewdness in mind, and for my hemming and hawing it fits well enough into the homegrown aesthetic it clearly strove to cultivate. But all the same there’s a soullessness to the movie that renders it somewhat trivial and ignorable, a commendable effort to foster a D.I.Y. filmmaking sensibility that succeeds only on superficial notes. Is it petty to accuse a campy and violent B-movie of having too much money on its hands? Maybe, but it’s not the money as much as it’s the motivation that makes Hobo With a Shotgun a wickedly amusing but fairly disingenuous picture.
*And I’m not even sure that I’m right about that movie’s studio budget.
**Fun fact: Gregory Smith, here in the role of the Drake’s scumbag son Slick, played Mel Gibson’s son in The Patriot, a role which only required him to be shot by Jason Isaacs.