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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN -- DVD review by porfle

There are two kinds of post-grindhouse flicks.  (There may be more, but my brain can only handle two at a time.)  One is the homage, which mimics the look of the old ragged film prints seen in grindhouses and drive-ins back in the old days while displaying a spoofy, self-consciously retro sensibility.  (I just made that up.) 

The other kind, like HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN (2011), is simply a contemporary version of the kind of exploitation flicks that came out in the 70s and 80s, without the deliberate self-awareness or cosmetic similarities.  In other words (not mine, in fact), the filmmakers "just made the f***in' movie." 

This is what first-time feature director Jason Eisener did after winning the faux-trailer contest associated with the Tarantino-Rodriguez epic GRINDHOUSE, fleshing out his two-minute masterpiece into a gory, action-packed, ultra-violent, and really weird comedy-thriller that wantonly hurls itself over the top and just keeps on going. 

Although the title, concept, and wonderfully retro poster art promised a film that would be right up my alley, I must admit that upon first viewing I wasn't all that crazy about it.  In fact, it seemed pretty slapdash and stupid, and not at all the full-blooded grindhouse experience that my bizarre appetites had been whetted for.  I guess I was expecting something more along the lines of PLANET TERROR, instead of a garish Technicolor cartoon with supporting performances and surrealistic situations that seemed like something out of a demented Pee-Wee Herman movie.

Watching HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN again, however (and I've seen it at least four times so far), I'm beginning to better appreciate the skill and effort that these novice filmmakers have put into it.  With old pro Rutger Hauer filling out the title role with his usual skill and creating a realistic character out of what could have been a one-dimensional joke, director and co-writer Eisener displays a fair amount of imagination and directorial finesse in depicting the bloody adventures of a hobo who comes to town with the dream of earning enough money to buy a lawnmower but ends up wielding a shotgun in a one-man crusade to rid the streets of rampant crime.

As in ROBOCOP, this city is the ultimate urban cesspool run by a powerful, supremely arrogant criminal kingpin.  Nattily-dressed scumball Drake (Brian Downey) and his psychotic sons Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman) rule the cowering citizens through terror, which includes gruesome public executions and mass murders with the cooperation of a totally bent police force.  When the Hobo stops Slick from mauling a young prostitute (Molly Dunsworth as "Abby") and later trades his lawnmower for a shotgun to stop a deadly pawn shop robbery, his course is set.  With Molly as his faithful ally, the Hobo takes a bite out of crime shotgun-style until his inevitable showdown with the Drakes.

Fluorescent colors and frenetic camerawork form the dizzying visual style of the film (inspired, according to Eisener, by such movies as SUSPIRIA and SAVAGE STREETS) while gushing gouts of gore and body parts galore splatter every inch of the screen.  The bad guys are so incredibly vile, and so richly deserve to die horribly, that we get a satisfying charge every time the Hobo blasts them to bits.  But the innocent suffer just as gruesomely--there's no shortage of exploding heads, broken bones, shredded flesh, and disembowelings.  Even a school bus full of little kids gets incinerated to the tune of "Disco Inferno." 

While Eisener doesn't quite stoop to the old "so intentionally bad, it's good" schtick, he is trying so hard to create an instant cult flick that the constant barrage of cartoonish cacophony becomes tiresome at times.  Drake throws himself into the loudmouthed ringmaster routine once too often, while some of the other characters (such as Jeremy Akerman as the crooked police chief) seem to exist only for the purpose of screaming into the camera. 

Profanity-packed overacting is an end unto itself throughout the film, redeemed only by the fact that some of the actors doing it are pretty good.  Nick Bateman is intermittently amusing as Drake's number-two son Ivan, brightly declaiming some of the film's most willfully dumb lines ("It's a beautiful day for a SKATE RAPE!"), while ultimate bad-guy duo The Plague--robotic armor-plated enigmas who mercilessly get medieval on their victims in horribly imaginative ways--come off at first like a silly-looking WWE tag team but end up being pretty cool.  Other players distinguish themselves here and there, such as a frantic emergency-room doc (Juanita Peters) who struggles to revive an injured Molly while screaming, "Live!  Live, you f***ing whore!"

Needless to say, the consummately professional Hauer carries the film whenever it begins to sag.  He has some pretty classic moments that transcend everything else around him, including his stirring speech to a maternity ward full of newborns (which may rank right up there with BLADE RUNNER's "I've seen things" soliloquy).  The film's second-best performance is by the very cute Molly Dunsworth as kindhearted hooker Abby, whose scenes with the Hobo manage to be genuinely moving.  She really gives her all to the part, especially when she transforms herself into a makeshift superheroine with a lawnmower-blade shield and takes on the Plague in the film's blood-drenched finale. 

The 2-disc Collector's Edition DVD from Magnolia Home Entertainment's Magnet label is in 2.40:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.  Subtitles are in Spanish, with English closed-captions.  Disc one contains the movie along with two commentary tracks, one with Eisener and Hauer, the other with Eisener, writer John Davies, producer Rob Cotterill, and David Brunt (the GRINDHOUSE trailer's original "Hobo.")  There's also an interactive "Shotgun Mode" with behind-the-scenes clips. 

Disc two features "More Blood, More Heart: The Making of 'Hobo With a Shotgun'", deleted scenes, an alternate ending, video blogs, a camera test reel, Fangoria interviews with Eisener and Hauer, an HDnet featurette, the GRINDHOUSE trailer, faux-trailer contest winner "Van Gore", the redband U.S. theatrical trailer, and Canadian TV spots.  The DVD case also contains info on how to acquire your digital copy of the film online.

A free-for-all of unrelieved carnage and perversely lighthearted depravity, HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN definitely won't appeal to some viewers in any way, shape, or form.  And even some of the people to whom it's squarely aimed probably won't think it's all that great.  I was even lumping it into the same pile of devastatingly disappointing duds as HOWARD THE DUCK before it began to grow on me after subsequent viewings.  Now I see it for what it is--a modestly audacious burst of youthful creativity that lives up to its promising title by shocking and titillating us on an unabashedly juvenile level.  Hey, I can live with that.

Buy it at
2-disc Collector's Edition DVD

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