Hobo With a Shotgun (2011)
By: Paul Ryan on July 23, 2011  | 
Director: Jason Eisener
Stars: Rutger Hauer, Gregory Smith, Molly Dunsworth, Brian Downey, Nick Bateman
Screnplay: John Davies
Country: Canada
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Riding the rails into the ironcially-named city of Hope Town, a nameless hobo (Rutger Hauer) attempts to scrape by as best he can. Dignity is at a premium in this grotty, crime-ridden burg, overseen by crazed mobster Drake (Brian Downey) and enforced by his sadistic, coke-peddling sons Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman). A sleazy jerk with a video camera pays hobos to beat each other senseless on camera; people are routinely robbed and murdered in the streets; children are preyed upon in parks. Following a vicious beating at the hands of Slick and the morally bankrupt Chief of Police (Jeremy Akerman), the hobo is taken in by kindhearted hooker Abby (Molly Dunsworth). Longing to buy a second-hand lawnmower that sits in the window of a pawn shop (which represents the kind of sedate, rooted life he lacks), the hobo makes a sudden change in his plans when thugs attempt to rob the store and threaten a mother and baby. Grabbing an identically-priced item from the shelf – a pump action shotgun – he begins to lay waste to Drake's minions and becomes a media celebrity (to quote one newspaper headline: "HOBO STOPS BEGGING, DEMANDS CHANGE"). Naturally, Drake and his boys do not take this lying down, and with the corrupt police in tow, wage war on the homeless of Hope Town and the hobo in particular...

When Grindhouse was released, Robert Rodriguez ran a contest in conjunction with the SXSW festival for fans to submit their own mock exploitation trailers. The winning entry, by Jason Eisener was Hobo With a Shotgun, which has now been expanded into its own retro schlock feature. Shot in intensely oversaturated colours – using the celebrated Red digital camera – the film looks great, with its lurid design, eighties-styled score and solid action staging. The cast, led by a dependably (nay, ferociously) intense Hauer is amusingly gung-ho, with Lexx's Downey a brassy, oily villain and Dunsworth alternately sweet, vulnerable and - by film's end - manic.

However, whereas the various elements of Grindhouse (and by extension, Machete) managed to walk the fine line between homage and working as solid pieces in their own right, Hobo With a Shotgun is much less of autonomous creature. There's the persistent vibe of a film trying that bit too hard to be an instant cult item, though thankfully not to the same extent as Dead and Breakfast or Snakes on a Plane. The violence is, as one would expect, plentiful and over-the-top, with countless limb-snappings, head-blastings, slashings, stabbings, torchings, hangings and so on. But unlike many of the films it's aping – there's a definite whiff of Toxic Avenger influence in the pawn shop robbery scene, for one, and a homage to Peter Jackson's Braindead near the end – there's a harshness, and ultimate mean-spiritedness to all the mayhem. There's one key sequence midway through – involving a schoolbus full of kids, Drake's boys and a flamethrower – that pushes the gag too far, tipping over into outright distastefulness. The intensity of the violence often smothers the black comedy aspects of the film, indicating that the filmmakers just didn't know when to quit. While there are many successful gags throughout the film, the end result leaves the same kind of unpleasant aftertaste as Uwe Boll's Postal (which it resembles in some ways).

Hobo With a Shotgun is currently playing at the Melbourne International Film Festival, and will be in wider release later this year.
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