Movie Review: “Hobo With a Shotgun”

You title your movie “Hobo With a Shotgun,” you build in certain expectations. It’s going to be violent. VERY violent. It’s going to be out there. It’s going to be camp, like “Snakes on a Plane.”

That seems to have been the idea Jason Eisener had when he did the fake trailer for this Rutger Hauer film, part of the movie “Grindhouse” a few years back.

But unlike Robert Rodriguez’s “Machete,” which went from mock trailer to feature film with its mad, satiric and over-the-top violent promise kept, “Hobo” hits the screen as a grim, visually ugly, intermittently funny-occasionally preachy piece with only the estimable Mr. Hauer to recommend it.

Hauer is the titular hobo here, a wino on the streets of a dystopian city of the near future. He’s homeless and on the streets for a reason. He longs for a lawnmower he sees in a junk shop window — some reminder of his past?

The world he wanders through is monstrously cruel, with corrupt cops, pedophile Santas and rich crime bosses getting their jollies off the graphic suffering of others. Eisener seems to have spent all his casting money on Hauer, as to a one, these supporting players are dreadful. Or perhaps more respectable actors knew better than to sign on for this. Brian Downey is Drake, the big bad guy and the campiest element in the whole picture.

“Mercy isn’t my style.”

Movies like this need balance between hero and villain. None of the no-names hired to play bad guys are in the same profession, much less the same league, as Rutger Hauer.

Hauer’s hobo is literally spat upon, sees the horrific cruelty — one bit involves manhole covers and a sick punishment straight out of the movie “Caligula,” another forcing poor people to eat glass — and finally, sixteen minutes in, takes action and takes up arms. Actually one “arm,” a pump-action shotgun.

He doles out justice with a healthy helping of flinty one-liners.

“Put the knife away, kid, or I’ll use to to cut welfare checks from your rotten skin.”

“I’m gonna sleep in your bloody corpse tonight!”

It’s sadism vs. no holds barred vengeance as this seemingly anonymous street person saves a hooker (Molly Dunsworth) and becomes a tabloid newspaper hero.

“Hobo Stops Begging, Demands Change.”

That’s funny, but that’s as clever as the John Davies script gets.

It’s an artless film of amateurishly scripted and staged over-the-top violence delivered by all sorts of weapons — bats with razor blades, saws, and of course, a flamethrower aimed at children trapped on a school bus.

The “message” here, of compassion for the homeless lest they get shotguns of their own, gets ground up in the gore of it all, feigned attempts at doing odd things with the camera when the actual footage is just plain dingy. And no, Mr. Eisener, “sick” is no substitute for style.

“We got homeless to kill,” the police chief  (Jeremy Akerman) spits. “So let’s go make some dead bodies.”

A few lines are funny, but none of the performances rise to that level. Hauer gives it some gusto, but he seems a trifle removed from it all, content to cast a demonic pall across his face from time to time and to suffer, mightily, in the torture scenes. But he doesn’t come off as really invested in a movie for fanboys born without an empathy gene.

“Hobo With a Shotgun” opened in a couple of theaters in New York, and probably won’t open in many more. Which means it’ll go to video, where those who enjoy this sort of thing can enjoy it in the privacy of their own home and not mingle with the human race.  And on behalf of that human race, let me just say “Thanks.”

MPAA Rating: unrated, VERY violent with sexual images, etc.

Cast: Rutger Hauer, Brian Downey, Molly Dunsworth, Gregory Smith, Nick Bateman

Credits: Directed by Jason Eisener, scripted by John Davies based on a story by Eisener. A Magnolia release. Running time: 1:26

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