There’s a scene early in Hobo with a Shotgun where a man is hanging by his head, which is sticking out of a manhole in the middle of the street. His brother, a crime lord, kills him by putting a rope around his neck, tying the other end of the rope to a car bumper, and driving off, pulling his head clean off his body. One of the crime lord’s scantily clad trophy girls stands over the gaping wound and dances lewdly as she lets copious amounts of blood spray all over her. The crime lord then takes his brother’s severed head and turns it into a hood ornament for his car. The bystanders, who huddle on the sidewalks, are forced at gunpoint into cheering the crime lord on, which is interesting because, on the basis of the lawless city they live in, I’m not sure they needed any coercion.
A year ago, I was crying foul over Kick-Ass and The Final. Now I find myself torn over an equally sick, disgusting, and morally reprehensible piece of exploitation. Hobo with a Shotgun — the second film to have spawned from a fake trailer in the Rodriguez/Tarantino double feature Grindhouse — is thematically without any redeeming qualities. Many scenes are just plain unbelievable in their relentless brutality. The film wallows in gore and violence, and it depicts people being shot, stabbed, and beaten in the most over-the-top and cringe-inducing ways. We all have our limits for tolerating this kind of material; I reached mine watching a busload of schoolchildren getting torched with a flamethrower. It helped me to keep in mind that it was only makeup and visual effects on display.
The violence is not symbolic, the characters are not multifaceted, and the plot is not one of introspection. There is essentially no purpose to this film, except to be as profane and offensive as humanly possible. On those terms, then I guess you can say it’s “effective.” I can give credit to director Jason Eisner for his cheap, grungy, old-school stylistic touches; the look of the film is essentially a hybrid, crossing the shocking gore of a 1970s grindhouse feature with the production and costume designs of a 1980s crime thriller. The score, credited to three individuals and one band, is a mishmash of orchestral melodrama and electronic action cues. Visually, the film has a certain B-movie charm — and at times, that does include shots of heads getting blown off and blood spattering directly onto the camera’s lens.
The plot, as it were, concerns an unnamed hobo (Rutger Hauer), who hitches a ride on a train and ends up in Hope City. The welcome sign has been altered by punks with spray cans; it now reads Scum City. This is a fitting description. It’s a lawless place populated by the cruelest, most unsavory people imaginable, including pimps, pedophiles, and a guy who films homeless men beating each other into bloody pulps (he dehumanizes them even further by paying them for their services). The cops are all corrupt and under the control of a local crime lord known only as The Drake (Brian Downey), a cross between Christoph Waltz, Dominique Pinon, and Truman Capote. His sadistic sons, Ivan and Slick (Nick Bateman and Gregory Smith) take great pleasure in using murdering homeless people in their club/arcade/carnival in the most ridiculous of ways; one is squashed like a bug between two bumper cars, while another has his toes smashed off on a makeshift high striker.
At first, the hobo keeps himself at a distance from the chaos and depravity. We get some insight into his hopes for the future: He wants to start his own gardening business. He passes the local pawnshop and stares longingly at a used lawnmower, which will cost him $49.99; when he finally earns enough money, he instead uses it on a shotgun, which he will use to dispense his own brand of justice on the city. The locals cheer him on … until Drake and sons put a hefty price on his head. It’s now up to the hobo and his new friend, a young prostitute named Abby (Molly Dunsworth), to stop The Drake from corrupting the city any further.
I cannot for the life of me explain the appearance of two iron-clad bodyguards known collectively as The Plague. When I say iron-clad, I don’t mean they wear police-grade bulletproof vests or medieval body armor; with their clunky, angular builds and mechanical voices, they look and sound like robots from a bad science fiction movie. I’m not exactly sure what they are underneath all that metal, although it’s highly unlikely that they’re human. At what point did this become a supernatural techno thriller? It was strange enough watching Hauer duct tape the working end of his shotgun to the crotch of one of the villains. Any guesses as to whether or not he pulls the trigger? I’m still not sure how I feel about Hobo with a Shotgun, but I’m well aware that certain audiences live for this kind of filmmaking. To them I say, have fun.