If I had the time, the inclination, and the work ethic, I would write a book about how modern-day producers are influenced by Roger Corman and Lloyd Kaufman rather than David O. Selznick. Like those two B-movie producers, the modern man like Jerry Bruckheimer is obsessed with putting as many asses into theater seats as possible. This means that there should be as many gratuitous effects (preferably of the gory kind) and sexy, scantily clad women.
But there is something missing from that formula – passion. Those producers all had it in spades. Bruckheimer and his contemporaries do not, which makes the modern filmmaker who loves what he does all the rarer. It’s what makes a film like Hobo With a Shotgun so difficult to review. This is a film that makes many mistakes and, worse yet, is unapologetic about it. Do some recasting and add a few explosions, and Hobo With a Shotgun would be on the same level as a typical summer blockbuster. But it is not, and feels like a passion project. Normally, the muses would smile down and tap Hobo With a Shotgun as some sort of true work of art, rather than something made to keep Hollywood’s cocaine habit afloat. But then, how do I ignore its basic mistakes?
That is something I will debate for sometime to come.
The plot involves, well, a hobo who buys a shotgun. OK, ok. An unnamed Hobo (Rugter Hauer…yes, THAT Rutger Hauer) arrives in a town called Hopetown. Of course, this town is filled with drugs, prostitutes, and a crime lord named Drake (Brian Downey). His two sons Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman) make the lives of the citizens a sadistic nightmare. The Hobo, fed up with the violence and the treatment of a prostitute named Abby (Molly Dunsworth) buys a shotgun from a pawn shop. He uses it to foil a robbery, and then to wage a one man war against the evil of Hopetown.
This film started at a competition involving Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse. Participants were invited to cut their own fake grindhouse trailers. Hobo With a Shotgun was the winner, and apparently there was enough interest to make the film.
The whole thing actually should strike a chord with Rodriguez – it’s pretty much the story of how he broke into Hollywood with El Mariachi and it’s remake/sequel Desperado. And like that pair, something about extra money has hurt the project. While this originals of both were down and dirty, the extra money somehow made the filmmakers feel like they could not take as many risks. After all, now they had investors to look after.
It also makes the B-movie spirit difficult to view. After all, it feels like, at times, the filmmakers should have known better. The acting is particularly atrocious (particularly from the main villain Drake, who acts as though he is in an Oscar Wilde play being directed by John Woo) and the camera work laughably bad. But the filmmakers try to give clues that it’s all “a joke” by showing old Technicolor logos and pointing out how bad that same work was in the original films.
Yes, but those films had so many limitations its amazing they didn’t all collapse and are even still preserved. The filmmakers here should know better. Making a deliberately bad movie is still making a bad movie – the fact that they are trying to say “well, we know it’s bad” is even more insulting.
Still, whereas Jerry Bruckheimer makes a bad movie to illicit a Pavlovian response in dumb teenagers, the filmmakers here have their genuine like of film and their desire to entertain as something to fall back on. I admire any film made in that spirit. But here’s the thing – that original trailer had more of that spirit than this one does. It feels like they were trying to capitalize on a viral video, the key word there being capitalize. That initial burst was gone.
Hobo With a Shotgun still retains many of the scenes that were present in the original trailer (with the strange exception of the subplot involving the corrupt cops) and still has many grotesque moments. Some of these are actually quite well thought out and act as a way for us to examine how we treat the homeless. Of particular note is the Bumfight spoof, whose director receives his comeuppance ( in a way that makes you realize how lightly Ryan McPherson got off). I also did like the Hobo’s monologue in the neonatal unit (although why hospital staff would let a person reeking of urine in there…oh wait. I guess he fits right in) about fate. There are also scenes of decapitation, stabbings, and enough gore to make the Saw producers feel envious. This feels like a film that genuinely would have found a cult following back in the 1970s, so I guess it was successful in that regard.
It’s weird that I spent pretty much an entire review lamenting on the fact that the film is not as brutal as it could have been and complaining about its lack of quality. Well, what more should there be in a movie titled Hobo With a Shotgun? What was attractive about the film was the passion involved. It’s still there, but it has been somewhat diluted. I wish that the film had been made in the same spirit that the trailer was made in, using the same actors. That had the air of irony, something that this new version does not. Still, it is fine for what it is, and I would sooner watch it again than subject myself to sitting through any of the Transformers films.