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'Hobo' Aims Low in Cheerfully Tasteless Vision of a Single Man's Class Struggle

Rutger Hauer stars as a shotgun-toting vigilante in Jason Eisener's grisly feature debut, opening May 27 at the Landmark Theatres in San Francisco and the Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley.

There’s nothing in Hobo with a Shotgun that you haven’t seen before in Lloyd Kaufman’s Troma pictures and the grindhouse films of the ’70s, save for perhaps better production values and an impressively grizzled Rutger Hauer.
 
That’s not to say Jason Eisener’s feature debut, inspired by the fake trailer he contributed to Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse during its 2007 Canadian theatrical run, is less than elegant in its simplicity. But there are far better reasons that “elegant” and Eisener’s Shotgun should never appear in the same sentence.
 
The movie is crude, awash with carnage and distinguished primarily by its refusal to respect any lines of decency. I say this with some admiration. The violence is sufficiently over-the-top to make the more flagrant transgressions seem less appalling, and besides, who needed that bus full of schoolchildren anyway? Let ’em burn.
 
John Davies’ story of a wandering vagrant who stumbles onto the amoral wasteland presided over by the fearsomely named Drake (Brian Downey) and his shit-off-the-old-block sons (Gregory Smith, Nick Bateman) is most creative in the inventive ways it dispatches its victims. Where is this forgotten corner of the universe, where vicious crime is tolerated – nay, encouraged – by rogue cops, and those seeking justice are thrown to the wolves?
 
It could be hell, but Drake’s paradise might just as well be Tromaville. It’s an indistinguishable urban playground (in reality, Halifax, Nova Scotia) where the Hobo (Hauer), whose longtime dream it is to buy a lawnmower, arrives to find so much chaos, such degradation and decay, that he blows a fuse. The would-be peacekeeper goes vigilante.
 
You might ponder the irony of his transformation, decrying the descent of a decent soul into the moral abyss, but Shotgun seems to justify it with its depiction of crime so rampant, so absurdly heinous, that the only rational response would be to fight back or flee. Being from nowhere, the Hobo has that option, or would have but for his appreciation of a hooker with a heart of gold (Molly Dunsworth) who, with his encouragement, rises above the abyss.
 
And so we have our Hobo at first owning the streets with his famous shotgun, gunning down pimps, pedophile Santas and the rest of the city’s vermin. Drake responds in typically understated fashion, organizing a full-scale holocaust of the homeless to weed out his most implacable critic. The Hobo, not to be outdone, blasts a cop literally to shreds and hides from the mob in the skin from the man’s backside.
 
The only disquieting aspect of the movie, besides Eisener’s ever-rising waves of mutilation, is the Hobo’s enthusiasm once he gets a taste for blood. But if he is morally suspect, look what he’s up against. Consider that moral relativism if you will, but as much as Shotgun is satire, a black comedy willing to tear up the envelope of bad taste, it’s very hard to take seriously on that level.

This is a well-constructed geek show; it’s got some heart, some laugh-out-loud one-liners and a sense of fun that escalates along with the body count. Is it a meaningful social critique? I don’t think so, not really, but for most of the movie’s 86 minutes, I was entertained. Warning to future critics, though: Take notes. Trying to remember the finer points of the plot, and all the movie’s inventively gruesome kills, might tax even the willing.

Hobo with a Shotgun opens May 27 at the Landmark Theatres in San Francisco and the Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley. It is available now via Video on Demand.