Film Review: “Hobo With a Shotgun”

It’s hard to fault “Hobo With a Shotgun” for being a bad movie, because that’s what it wants to be.  Based on the title alone, you know what you’re getting yourself into, although there are always varying degrees of success.  How do you review it?  The film intentionally features a paper-thin vigilante story and terrible acting, dialogue, and cinematography.  If you like the occasional grindhouse experience, you might praise it for its crude humor, extreme violence, and celebratory embrace of shoddy, low-budget action flicks from the 70s and 80s.  As someone who grew up on those flicks and likes the current grindhouse trend, I was fully prepared to do just that if I had enjoyed the movie, but I didn’t.  I was even in the mood to see a movie like “Hobo With a Shotgun,” but I was bored almost instantly.  It was a task to keep my attention centered on the mess I was watching.

If you watch “Hobo With a Shotgun,” you might feel like you’re watching a skit or fake trailer that has been stretched into a feature length (Troma) film, and you’d be correct.  It’s based on a fake trailer that won a contest to be featured in a screening of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s “Grindhouse.” 

 

Veteran actor Rutger Hauer plays a nameless homeless man who drifts into a city consumed by crime and corruption.  Cartoonish acts of cruelty run rampant, from thugs filming bum fights to a Santa pedophile preying on children.  Hauer just wants to find some peace of mind and save up for a lawnmower, which I presume is supposed to be funny because he’s a bum, so it doesn’t make any sense.  Unfortunately, with criminals running loose in the city, he can’t find any peace of mind, so he decides to take matters into his own hands.  With a shotgun, of course.  The only story beyond that involves Hauer meeting a prostitute he takes a liking to and mistakes for a teacher; another joke (about him being schizophrenic or a drunk?) that falls flat.

Besides Hauer, the best thing “Hobo With a Shotgun” has going for it is impressive gore effects.  You will see heads shot off, hands chopped off, and bodies cut in half, to name just a few of the countless deaths in the film.  If I could describe how someone gets decapitated with a manhole cover, barbed wire, and a car early in the film and have it make any sense, I would.  All of the gore is accomplished with superior practical effects that were all filmmakers had back in the day, but are sadly missed (for the most part) these days.  I appreciated the gore; it made me wish I was watching a similar but funnier and more engaging film.  The endless violence gets a bit redundant and loses value after awhile, but I appreciate director Jason Eisener going all out.  I also liked some of the action in a hospital near the end and the vintage score that recalls music used in the old films it imitates.

Some would argue that is all you should expect out of a movie called “Hobo With a Shotgun,” but I think the style and gore has to be supported by something.  In this case, it’s supposed to be humor, but I found very little of it funny.  There is a gag where two of the main villains board a school bus, ask the children if they like homos, and when the kids say yes, one villain says, “Well, I hate homos,” before burning the children alive with a flamethrower.  Crude, tasteless, and completely over-the-top, yes, but it’s actually one of the funniest jokes in the film.  Some of the dialogue is so bad it’s laughable, so it got a few intentional chuckles out me, but that’s about it.  A lot of it just isn’t funny. 

 

The film is also ugly.  Of course, it’s all part of the homage to bad action flicks of yore, but the color saturation is through the roof here.  The cinematography is terrible.  It looks like a bad VHS tape instead of the grainy film found in portions of “Grindhouse” and “Machete,” the latter being the first film inspired by a fake trailer.

If you’re going to do homage, you have to do more than just imitate.  You have to realize what made those movies fun, but you also have to innovate and put your own spin on the genre for modern audiences.  “Hobo With a Shotgun” feels like a Troma movie (“The Toxic Avenger,” “Tromeo and Juliet”) through and through, but it lacks even Troma’s usual wit.  The parody is clumsy and uneven, hit or miss at best.  It loves Troma and old school action flicks in general, but it does so without a wink and a nod.  It’s a Xerox more than a clever celebration.

Speaking of “Machete,” I think that’s how you do one of these movies correctly, for reasons most people didn’t like.  “Machete” offers the same over-the-top violence, although not quite as much of it, in the hands of a competent filmmaker.  Many people didn’t like it because it has a political message that it wears on its sleeve.  It made opponents of illegal immigration the bad guys.  If you know my liberal tendencies, you might think I accepted that because it’s right up my alley.  The truth is I think illegal immigration is an extremely complex issue, and I’m not sure exactly where I stand.  I do, however, think a grindhouse flick is the perfect place to insert a political message.  It gives the adult mind something to chew on while teenage violence fantasies are fulfilled.  I criticized “Machete” for being a bit long and heavy on narrative for its genre.  I thought it could have struck more closely to the action and got where it’s going more quickly.  After seeing “Hobo With a Shotgun,” now I’m not so sure.  

Sure, it might seem like a safe and easy move for me to trash the movie, but believe me when I say I didn’t want to.  In the end, above all else, I come back to the fact that I was bored and had trouble concentrating on the film.  I love movies, and even bad ones can usually hold my interest, so something went wrong.  It could be fun to watch with friends over many beers (and perhaps drugs), but there are better options, and you still might get bored and do something worth your time.

1 out of 5 stars

“Hobo With a Shotgun” releases in theaters on May 17, but it’s currently available on Comcast On Demand for a $9.99 rental fee.  Most reviews of the film have been positive so far; the film currently has a 94% fresh rating on RottenTomatoes.com, and a 7.9/10 user rating on IMDB.com.

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Author: Jeff Derrickson View all posts by
Jeff Derrickson is a member of the Perfectly Sane Show and co-host of Movie Dudes. He studied English and mass media at Northeastern Illinois University.
  • http://vagary.tv Kyle Baron

    Thank you. Your review reminds me that I’m not the only sane person out there.

  • http://vagary.tv Chris

    Or maybe you are both crazy… who knows.

  • Av

    I think the reason for him (the hobo) ‘mistaking’ the prostitute for a teacher was because it was too painful for him to acknowledge she was a prostitute. He wanted to believe she was something more. He knew she was a hooker but like a parent would be he was in denial. Deep down he knew the truth and that’s why when she said to him in the hospital “You know I’m a hooker right?” he sadly nodded his head and said “I know”. I don’t think it was because he was drunk or schizophrenic.

  • M_hosick

    I found the aesthetic of the film to be beautiful. The high saturation gives the film a very surreal, parallel world feel. Hauer, a lonely shit stained bum just looking for a place to hang up his ruck sack, and mow the fucking lawn on Sundays walks into this parallel world and is shocked by the crime and corruption. Hauer and the antagonists are classic Troma style villains/awkward hero set up. Hauer desires the law mower because it represents a life he doesn’t have. A settled, domesticated, ideal, life. Also he is a crazy bum. I absolutely enjoyed the dialogue. I found the over cooked drama and cheesy lines reminiscent of David Lynch. Lines like, ““Im gonna wash this blood off with your blood” had my sides splitting faster than a razor covered baseball bad. The Troma style moral depravity was a blast.
    There are so many ways death can come a knocking in this sideways town. I found the “glory hole” trick the most toe curling. In no was it the worst way to go, but something about the open sewer below and emanate death above, which your forced to watch, really stuck with me. We are lead to believe that the main antagonists are the central cause of the evil, but as we see the armor clad, motorcycle ridding knights emerge from a medieval style castle/mansion and announce that the prostitute is now “in charge”, whatever that means, because she had killed the shitty father. The knights say “The plague” must continue, implying that there is a much larger evil at work here and the shitty kids and father were just the best at the game. “The Plague” is also the name of an arcade game the kid who gets his arm broken is playing.
    I feel the parallel world aspect was intentional. The wondering bum is never shown getting into town he is just simply there, as if plopped down into his own worst nightmare. He directly contrasts the world. He was to be domestic. He wants …a home. Ultimately, I found the film to be delight. I loved the “heart warming” drama mixed in with the crass uncensored moral degradation. The plot and dialogue were well planned (even if it is “just a shitty grindhouse flick”) and the cinematography amazing. Maybe you give “Hobo with a Shotgun” one more go it will make more sense, Jeff. So, pop some kettle corn, slip into your favorite fart soaked sweat pants, and enjoy.

    M.Hosick