Rating : ★ ★ ★
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If you don't get the joke right away, you'll be uncomfortable for the next 90 minutes. Hobo With a Shotgun is a special kind of movie; consider the way that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre explains its purpose solely by its title. It's in Texas, and someone massacres people with a chainsaw. Hobo With a Shotgun is just that - there's a homeless man, and he has a shotgun. That's never a good combination. We've seen this plot before, though - numerous times. Part Taxi Driver, part Walking Tall, part any "old man fights back" movie, this is neo-Grindhouse in its ugliest form. Of course, Grindhouse cinema, almost by definition, isn't pretty. Shoddy production values, you'll find poorly edited reels of film with scratches on them, boom microphones hanging in the shots... (not here, though, thankfully).
Grindhouse, by a sort of... standardized definition - low-budget filmmaking in the hands of a skilled director, made solely to mess with you. That, simply, is Hobo with a Shotgun. To drive home the Grindhouse point even more, the only reason this film exists is because of 2007's Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez Grindhouse. It comes in two parts, and has fake trailers in between each actual movie. Machete was one of them. This is one of the others. It was created by the director, Jason Eisman, for Canadian showings of their film. Amazingly, it got enough support to become a full feature film.
Rutger Hauer, no stranger to violent B-movies, stars are our titular transient. He's a man with no name (aren't they all?) who hopped on the first train car to no where in particular, only to end up in a small Canadian cesspool called Hope Town. Or, rather, Scum Town, given who you ask for directions. He wanders into a world he can't even imagine, and this is a man who must have seen some things. Hope Town is overrun by crime - prostitution, murder by the minute, drugs, rape, everything you could possibly imagine. And what choice does Hobo have? At first, he does his best to turn a blind eye. He wants to do good; he wants to make fifty dollars and start a lawn-mowing business. He's an up-and-comer. This town will hold him down. Unfortunately, this is a town where homeless people are gathered and decapitated. For fun.
Who's in charge? Well, technically, no one. Who would you blame? He goes by The Drake (Brian Downey). He's a slick-back Jabberwocky in a town with no way out. If you want a picture, try to remember Dennis Hopper's Bowser in that horrid Super Mario Bros. movie. That came to mind more than once while watching. Thankfully, Downey plays Drake with enough energy to keep him watchable, even during the most deplorable acts. He has two sons - Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman). They are the muscle of his organization, and Slick wants to take over. He's the favorite son (Drake says that multiple times), so of course he gets to. Until he pisses off the Hobo, that is - he watches Slick and Ivan harass young women in a club. After getting cut up and told to mind his own business, he walks down the street, nearly bleeding to death, and bumps into a hooker named Abby (Molly Dunsworth), saving her life as she's about to be raped by the chief of police.
Okay. Hold on. I feel like I'm not giving a fair assessment of this town. Try and imagine... 120 Days of Sodom, but as a theme park ride. And yes, the town Santa Claus is a pedophile. No stone is left unturned.
This is a revenge film. It's a lot of movies, actually. Revenge, exploitation, Grindhouse, homage, spoof, blacker-than-Hell comedy... For those curious to watch it despite numerous warnings against its gruesome and extremely graphic violence, its treatment of women and children... more power to you. Yes, I obviously recommend it. It's enjoyable, for what it is. It delivers exactly what it promises - there's a homeless man with a shotgun. The real story is what he does with it. And, sure, there'll be talk after the viewing about which scene was the most gross and whatever. But, don't be fooled into thinking that there isn't a message hidden in there somewhere. Partly (minutely, maybe), the film focuses on the treatment of the homeless today. "Treat them with a little respect. Technically, their house is bigger than yours!", one character says.
The performances in the film sell it to be what it is - a big joke. Rutger Hauer is having fun as the hobo with a temper. He elicits humor from even the most intense stares. He's in on the joke, as is Brian Downey, his nemesis. Downey's performance is one for the "sleaze ball" books. Unfortunately, those two performances are the only truly watchable ones. But, Grindhouse films were never famous for their level of acting bravura. And the violence in the film, while it helps to distract from the bad acting, isn't any more watchable. A hand is severed, straight to the bone, on a lawnmower blade; children inside of a school bus are killed by a flame thrower; heads are decapitated by manhole covers, ropes, trucks, and bored people. But, at the same time, this is also a town with a mutant octopus and a robot army. So, nothing is really what it appears.