The extermination of B-movies from theaters has long been lamented by exploitation aficionados; ever since Jaws came out in 1975, all the major studios realized they could profit from making their own big-budget gore flicks. Thus, generations of moviegoers have missed the singular joys of watching the work of artisans like Roger Corman, Ray Dennis Steckler, or Russ Meyer (or their present-day counterparts) on the big screen instead of on their TVs. And while we may have Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez trying to fill the gap with their own vampire/ninja/nazi/zombie/revenge movies, they're altogether too slick and too self-aware—missing that vital ingredient of low-budget nonsensicalness that transforms the most indecipherable B-movie into a cult favorite.
But now we've got Hobo With a Shotgun. And, by any measure of cinema, it sucks. Yet, for those who can quote dialogue from Death Race 2000 or Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, it will be a thrill to see this much blood-soaked bizarreness in a dark room with other people—just like our grandparents once did. (It's showing May 25 at 7 p.m. at the Relix Variety Theatre.)
Hobo With a Shotgun lives up to its name: It is essentially about a hobo who blows away bad guys in a bad town. But—and this is an important distinction—it's Rutger Hauer as a hobo who blows away bad guys in a bad town. And that means you've got some movie magic. Hauer is one of those rare screen talents whose mere presence in a scene draws your attention, no matter how idiotic the actual film might be. It's been a long, hard road since his glory days as the replicant in Blade Runner, but even in the autumn years of his current direct-to-video career, you get the sense that he tries really hard to deliver the goods—even with a script as mind-boggling as Hobo With a Shotgun's. Which isn't meant as a criticism. Not making any sense is a good thing, in this genre.
The biggest problem with A-list talent trying to make B-movies is that they always try to use logical storylines, just like in regular movies. That is a dreadful mistake, which has resulted in a lot of boring failures. The great thing about B-movies is that they invent their own logic by not adhering to any precepts of story construction. Things just happen.
Hobo With a Shotgun explains nothing about its little universe, and we are the better for it. Hauer's hobo lands in a grim city named Hope Town (renamed "Scum Town" via graffiti, and used by the populace), a place that has descended into deadly chaos. Is it a post-apocalyptic world, or just a place with bad police enforcement? Maybe both. In the first scene, a swaggering fellow who calls himself "the Drake" (Brian Downey), kills his brother by sticking his head into a custom manhole cover, plopping it into the street, and then yanking his head off with a barbed-wire noose. (Whereupon his bikini-clad girlfriend writhes erotically in the resulting fountain of blood.) Nobody's willing to do much about this scene of degradation except shuffle away—the Drake apparently rules the town, using his psychotic Risky Business-era Tom Cruise-lookalike sons as deadly enforcers. Yep.
So, anyway, the hobo decides he wants to buy a lawnmower at a pawn shop, but he ends up killing a trio of burglars who threaten to kill a baby and her mother. And then he goes on a rampage, killing assorted thugs, pedophiles, and rapists. Yet he also has a tender side, befriending a beautiful prostitute. However, the Drake gets annoyed by all this, so he sends his sons after the hobo. Then the battle royal is on! And how did I forget to mention the Tin Man-armor-wearing duo known as "the Plague" who also chase after the hobo?
For followers of splatter and shocksploitation, the remainder of Hobo With a Shotgun's runtime is a delight of increasingly bad decapitation effects and stupid dialogue. (Beautiful Prostitute: "You can't solve all of the world's problems with a shotgun!" World-Weary Hobo: "It's all I know.") I think, for the most part, Hobo With a Shotgun is genuinely bad. That is to say, it's not self-knowingly bad so much as it is really, really bad—like a true B-movie. Rather than trying to make an imitation of exploitation cinema's glory days, as in Tarantino and Rodriguez's Grindhouse (which inspired Hobo With a Shotgun with a promotional trailer contest), director Jason Eisener and writer John Davies have made the most entertaining movie they could dream up, and they were pretty inept at it. While there are a few retro trappings here—the title sequence, the jarringly pleasant soundtrack—its lack of camp makes for a more authentic B-movie experience, which may cheer that sub-subset of cineastes.
But, as I mentioned earlier, it still sucks. The movie lacks much of a sense of humor, and what's there often involves the killing of children. Downey hams it up as the slick-haired Drake, but nobody else really gives Hauer a run for the thespian money. There aren't many surprises, and the script never really develops any themes that might someday be described loosely as "social commentary" by pop-culture academicians. Hobo With a Shotgun simply doesn't quite deliver the giddy, transgressive fun that it aspires to, like those bloody classics of yore.