By Bryan Menegus
Much like last year's Machete, Hobo with a Shotgun began as one of the fake trailers in Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's Grindhouse (if you have no recollection of it, that's because it was almost exclusively shown in Canadian releases). In the vein of those films, Hobo is a movie keenly aware of itself and its limitations. Each beat of Hobo—the hambone villains, needlessly lewd and corny script, amateurishly oversaturated color and blood enough to drown a small army—rings true as an homage to the exploitation and B-movies of its heritage.
Riding in on a boxcar, harmonica in hand, the titular hobo (Rutger Hauer) finds himself in a town almost comically swathed in violence, depravity and addiction: a pimp keeping his prostitutes from doing their homework, a mall santa who masturbates to children, a corrupt police force and, if this exploitation-homage film weren't self-aware enough, a street hustler with a video camera who pays homeless men to degrade and injure themselves on tape. Hopetown (rechristened ‘F-cktown') is controlled by The Drake, a monomaniacal gangster with a love of the theatrical: those who cross him are publically stuffed in a manhole and decapitated before a cheering audience. Our protagonist—an outcast because of his unwavering sense of justice—only dreams of buying a lawnmower in order to start his own landscaping business. But a violent incident in a pawnshop forces him to buy a shotgun instead of the lawnmower, and he begins doling out retribution "one shell at a time."
The over-the-top nature of Hobo makes for some savagely enjoyable moments, like when supporting villains Slick and Ivan make liberal use of a flamethrower on a school bus full of children whilst listening to The Trammps' "Disco Inferno." But the unspoken deadpan wisecrack of the whole film seems to be casting the famously-mercurial Hauer as the hobo. Active for four decades and nailing roles in such movies as Blade Runner and Ladyhawke, Hauer does such an extraordinary job of capturing the mannerism and soul-weariness of the nameless hobo that the degree of professionalism and legitimacy he brings to Hobo becomes a joke within itself.
Clocking in at barely over an hour, Hobo with a Shotgun doesn't let itself run out of steam (or blood). To the easily offended, this movie will represent everything that's wrong with America today—and for the rest of us, that's exactly why it's so much fun.