Taking as a given the dog-chasing-its-tail pointlessness of such B-movie replicas, Hobo with a Shotgun offers up grindhouse gristle and wit that puts Machete to shame, and a critique of superhero psychosis more potent than that found in Super. That’s not to say, however, that Jason Eisener’s film—based, like Robert Rodriguez’s Danny Trejo vehicle, on a fake trailer—should be taken the least bit seriously. Rather, it’s simply that this nasty bit of business strikes an assured balance between reverential homage and smug self-consciousness, not to mention boasts a superior sense of humor.
Recognizing that its inherent goofiness is so obvious that calling attention to it is unnecessary, this saga largely confines its wink-wink jokiness to its title and premise; otherwise, it revels in cartoon viciousness that’s amplified by an air of sincerity, replete with more insanely profane insults than might be found in 10 legitimate ‘70s relics. Such over-the-top crassness is itself part of the joke, albeit not one directly acknowledged by incessant fourth wall-breaking directorial devices. Nor is it conceded by its cast, which is headlined by ‘80s action icon Rutger Hauer as the titular homeless man, who rides into an anonymous town with his legs dangling off the edge of a train’s box car, and finds his latest vagabond stop a graffiti-covered hellhole of sadism run by black-and-white-suited madman The Drake (Brian Downey).
Hauer’s Hobo seethes with fury at the ever-present sights of degradation, all while panhandling to earn the $49.99 it’ll take to buy a pawn shop’s lawnmower, which—as suggested by the TV ad playing beside it in the storefront window—stands as a symbol of suburban domestic normalcy that’s long escaped him. Like the Hobo’s eventual relationship with sweet hooker Abby (Molly Dunsworth), for whom he promotes a fairy-tale future as a schoolteacher, this motivation is a transparent cliché, yet Eisener and Hauer dramatize it with an emotional earnestness that allows them to straddle the line between ridiculousness and authenticity.
Suitably inflamed by the homicidal fear-mongering of The Drake, and after a run-in with his two offspring, prodigal son Slick (Gregory Smith) and goofy Ivan (Nick Bateman), leaves him with Slick’s name carved in his chest, the Hobo is compelled—at the moment of acquiring his lawnmower—to instead purchase his double-barreled firearm of choice, and begin a rampage against the town’s degenerates. Reported by newspapers with headlines like “Hobo Stops Begging, Demands Change,” it’s a slaughterhouse campaign of severely silly decapitations and torn flesh that reflects the Hobo’s amusing allegorical anecdote to Abby about bears, which he informs her are solitary creatures that, once allowed to taste human blood, become man-killers whose berserker rages can only be halted through death.
Eisener’s style is a rote collection of genre ticks, from grainy cinematography and cockeyed angles to oversaturated color filters and appendage-exploding effects. But these aesthetic tropes are so blatantly derivative and inane that Eisener wisely feels no need to go the extra step and call undue attention to their photocopied nature. Rather, Hobo with a Shotgun treats its Road Warrior-indebted dystopian vigilante saga with just enough of a straight face to get at the underlying insanity of its righteous-avenger protagonist, all while simultaneously engendering rah-rah sympathy for him and his quest. Eisener’s material is often too imitative to engender more than a mild chuckle, but as it barrels toward its predestined apocalyptic-martyr finale, it delivers sufficient brazenly inappropriate, religious iconography-decorated carnage—against women and children, as well as its primary players—to earn its disreputable stripes. Furthermore, in Hauer, it boasts an ideally unhinged presence, with the former Blade Runner and Blind Fury badass infusing his vagrant antihero with a madman sorrow and derangement that reaches its hilarious apex during a climactic speech to a hospital nursery’s infants that simultaneously mocks year-end pandering to—and yet in a just world might very well elicit—Oscar attention.