***originally written 2 August 2011***
How does a film review best serve its readers? More precisely, how does the reviewer best advise others? Is it to set aside personal preference and instead speak as though to the masses? And in doing so might one end up recommending only the most broadly palatable films? How does one review a film like Hobo With A Shotgun?
Maybe it’s a lot easier than I think, after all, you’ve probably got a good idea already having heard the title whether you’re likely to enjoy Hobo With A Shotgun. It stars Rutger Hauer too, by the way. It’s Rutger Hauer, playing a hobo, who has a shotgun. I’m tempted to end the review there…
But I won’t. That would be far too easy. So here goes. Hobo With A Shotgun is the latest in a growing number of low-budget American flicks to coin on the charm of the ‘Grindhouse’ features so lovingly adored by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, riffing on exploitation and niche horror movies from the 60s and 70s. That these new movies bare little resemblance to the movies that they imitate is beside the point; they exist in a curious world of retro-chic, where if something is so-bad-it’s-good, then all the better! Neither Death Proof nor Planet Terror actually fit the ‘Grindhouse’ model at all, the former being too cerebral and modern, the latter too reliant on CGI. In fact of the recent, joyful slew of ‘bad’ movies, only Machete adheres to the original formula of sporadic gratuity bogged down in middling disappointment.
Likewise Hobo With A Shotgun is more accurately placed alongside the ‘video nasties’ of the 80s – this is a movie far more preoccupied with pushing the boundaries of taste than pushing a political or moral agenda through the medium of genre fiction. In fact it’s worth stating quite explicitly right here and now that Hobo With A Shotgun is out to test just what you’re willing to stomach in the movies. In terms of gore, we’re up in the higher echelons of Re-Animator, Feast, or Tokyo Gore Police, coupled with the manic pacing of Evil Dead II. It’s a lot to take in. Do not watch this film if you are squeamish, or can’t abide dark humour.
The bad guys, ostensibly two terrible young actors dressed like Top-Gun-the-College-Years and their mob-boss father (who looks and sounds like Krang from Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles), are despicable, and A LOT of the movie’s time is spent showing all the disgusting, degrading things they like to do. I have a strong stomach, but some of this material tested me. Breaking kids’ arms in video game arcades, mutilating women and unleashing flamethrowers on a bus filled with school children are just three examples. The result is effective – they’re truly loathsome characters – but the journey is hard. They lord it over a city they alternately call Scum Town and Fuck Town. Until a hobo comes along, seeking only peace, and the opportunity to mow lawns.
And thank God he did, because Rutger Hauer’s shopping trolley-wielding Man With No Name lends the film terrific heart and a great deal of much-needed comic relief. He is wholly committed to the character, bless him, and gives the Hobo a quiet, sad dignity. And when he teams up with Canadian prostitute Abby (just listen to her say “aboot”) the film really takes some joyous turns – such as his bizarre conviction that she is actually a substitute teacher and their shared passion for bears. The two of them take a stand against the degradation drowning the city, and in doing so face the fight of their lives, armed with only a used lawnmower, a shotgun, and a limitless number of shells.
Things only escalate as gang boss Drake calls in “The Plague” (think Daft Punk from the Iron Age), and the heady mixture of comedy and gore thickens further. You won’t know whether to laugh or avert your eyes, and occasionally you’ll laugh, only to feel gleefully ashamed about it. Is the finale a let down? Maybe a little. It’s hard to judge fully where Hobo With A Shotgun reaches it’s high (or should that be low) point. And if the ending can’t fully live up to the carnage of the journey taken to get there, the choice of end credits music is inspired enough for you not to care.
And so ultimately it comes back to me. How should I best advise you on this movie? Is it a good movie? No. No, it’s not a good movie. There is little or nothing laudable about anything that happens here. Is it a fun movie? Hell, yes. Filthy, rotten, shameless fun.