I remember seeing the trailer for “Hobo with a Shotgun” included in the Canadian theatrical release of “Grindhouse” and thinking of how ridiculously over the top and impossible this thing looked. Don’t get me wrong, it was brilliant, better than the other fake trailers in fact, but I didn’t think anyone could wring much out of the rather one-note premise that a hobo buys a shotgun from a pawn shop and kills a bunch of bad guys. I mean, it looked like they came up with a funny title over a couple of beers, and then wrote some gross gags around that. This may work for a two-minute trailer, but can you really keep up that manic energy and pace for a whole movie?
Apparently yes. “Hobo with a Shotgun” manages to be like a one and a half hour version of its own trailer. Not only is it good, but it miraculously retains the same look, mood and feel from beginning to end. The storyline is as simple as the title: A nameless Hobo, a perfectly cast Rutget Hauer, arrives into the worst city in America (Riding the rails naturally) and goes to work trying to beg enough money to fulfill his dream of buying a lawnmower and starting his own mowing company. There he meets a hooker with a heart of gold and an entire city populated exclusively by psychopaths, dirty cops, drug addicts, drug dealers, high school students, scared citizens, other homeless people, or various combinations of the above. All of which are lorded over by a crime kingpin called “The Drake” and his two preppy sons. When we first meet The Drake he’s decapitating his own brother with a barbed wire noose, after trapping him in a manhole cover “collar”, by pulling it off with a truck. After which, he has his half naked w****s dance around the man’s blood gushing neck stump. Pardon the profanity, but this guy doesn’t f**k around does he? Did I mention he does this in full view of the city? Here’s a guy who makes Tony Montoya seem sedate and low-key. Hell, here’s a whole movie that makes “Scarface” look G-rated.
I can’t remember what the name of the city was, but its nickname of “F**k Town” is kind of hard to forget. What a town it is too. Guys dressed up as Santa Claus snatching kids off the streets, topless women playing piñata with bloodied men hung by their ankles in disco ball lighted warehouses, guys getting their head smashed in between bumper cars in the arcade. This is a place so utterly dystopian that when supernatural elements start cropping up towards the end we are not surprised one bit.
After I saw director Jason Eisener’s short “Treevenge” I knew he was a man to watch. Treevenge took a ridiculous premise, namely that pine trees are alive and self-aware and very pissed off at the genocide we call Christmas, made no attempt at all to soften it’s batshit bonkers bananas storyline with logic, and just threw itself wholeheartedly into wringing out as much enjoyment from it’s ideas as possible. It worked great and was a lot of fun. He and writer John Davies bring that same sort of manic zeal here, taking a similarly snoop-loop idea and making something intelligent and entertaining out of it.
I can even tell you why this movie works while arguably similar stuff fails miserably. It’s that Hobo immerses you into a world that seems, not realistic obviously, but well thought out and a lot vaster than the film shows. There’s more happening in this film’s universe than you’re a witness to. That is the mark of good filmmakers. Bad filmmakers have tunnel vision and don’t see beyond what they’re shooting for the scene. With Hobo there’s a huge world out there and occasionally you catch a few glimpses of it. Like “The Plague”, two armour clad men who do “The Drake’s” dirty work, yet who deserve whole movie unto themselves. We don’t know who they are, or what they are, nor do we know why they seem to have a giant octopus in their basement. All we know is that they don’t feel like paper thin cardboard villains, even though they probably would in any other movie.
Rutger Hauer also does the best acting job of his career, play the Hobo too goofy and he’s a cartoon, play him too serious and he’s in the wrong movie. How he manages to straddle the fine line between the two extremes I’ll never know, but he does it, and I don’t think anyone will ever be able to truly appreciate just how good he is here. There’s a scene towards the end where Hauer’s Hobo knows he’s going to his certain death and makes a speech to some infants in a nursery that’s as good as anything you’ll see people win Academy Awards for. What’s even more amazing is that this scene doesn’t jerk you out of the film. It feels organic to the rest of the movie.
This is a really fun ride that’s also incredibly quotable and never ever drags. The whole thing zips by in like two minutes. Funny story, my wife had an asthma attack just before the movie started and I almost took a raincheck on the whole thing, but she said she’d wait it out and promised to tell me if it got bad. After the movie she wheezed that maybe we should take a little trip to the Emergency Room. Once the doctors had gotten her on Oxygen and she could do more than gasp and whisper and I asked her why the hell she hadn’t told me it had gotten that bad, and without missing a beat she says: “I wasn’t gonna leave without knowing how it ended!” So I guess you can consider that her own positive review of the film.