Back in 2007, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino released a pair of ’80s exploitation revival feature films under the combined title of Grindhouse. They also held a competition for directors to submit trailers of imaginary films, consistent with the theme of the genre, that could be screened beforehand. One such trailer was eventually turned into its own feature length film four years later, and is this week’s movie recommendation. It’s Jason Eisener’s Hobo with a Shotgun (2011).
An especially grizzled Rutger Hauer plays The Hobo (buckle up; the clichés don’t relent). The Hobo stumbles upon Scum Town, where The Drake (played by Brian Downey) rules not so much with an iron fist as with sadistic glee. Ritual executions in Scum Town are frequent and arbitrary, and they’re meted out purely to remind the people that The Drake is in charge. To this end, the Drake’s childish goons Slick and Ivan unquestioningly decapitate their uncle in the middle of the street only to emphasize the absolute force of their father’s rule.
Meanwhile, the Hobo dreams of settling down and opening up his own business some day. But when he interrupts one of Slick and Ivan’s sadistic games and saves a similarly reform-minded prostitute named Abby (played by Molly Dunsworth), he’s forced to set aside his dreams and take a stand. This Hobo is sick and tired of the injustice that plagues Scum Town, and he’s going to go to any length to save it from the hoodlums and crooks. It’s not as though he has a choice, either. His involvement with Slick and Ivan has roused the Drake’s anger, and he’s now a target for brutal and grotesque dismemberment. The Hobo foregoes his dream of a happier life, and purchases a shotgun with which to fulfill his titular legacy.
Eisener nails the ‘80s style of B-movie violence-porn. In addition to the lurid and gruesome plot, the script itself is superficial and hackneyed, the colors are over-saturated (think CSI:Miami and you’ll be on track), and the soundtrack relies on liberal use of synthesizers. There’s something about a film that so shamelessly replicates the knowingly un-fashionable that it excuses much of what makes it so improbably dumb. After all, you’d feel silly dignifying a feature-length film with thoughtful scrutiny when it originated out of a frivolous two-minute commercial for a fake movie. That kind of off-handed dismissal makes it easy – and indeed necessary – to consume the many tired tropes (crime-ridden dystopias, the retiree with nothing to lose, the tart with a golden heart, etc.) without getting indigestion.
You might find yourself wondering why Eisener would bother making a film that neither succeeds as an insightful and provocative dystopian parable, nor as an artistic spectacle worth handing down for posterity. But to do so would fail to acknowledge that there’s something inexplicably fun about a film that cashes in so unashamedly on these well-rehearsed clichés. Heck, maybe it’s the puerile and gratuitous violence that makes the film so watchable. I sure found my eyes glued to the set throughout, even if I would have welcomed a reprieve sooner than the final running time (a merciful 86 minutes) permitted.
It’s a film about basic instincts, made to appeal to basic instincts. If there is a point to it, maybe we’re over-complicating matters by searching for one. Don’t dare treat yourself to an expensive meal beforehand, and don’t have anything other than a cheap beer in your hand while watching it. Both may end up on the floor, if your stomach or sensibilities are weak.
WARNING: The trailer, which gives a pretty accurate sense of the tone of the movie, is filled with blood, gore, and colorful language.