Hobo with a Shotgun (Jason Eisener, 2011)
What is it possible to say about Hobo with a Shotgun that the title doesn’t already tell you? I mean, you’ve got a hobo, you’ve got a shotgun, and it is reasonable to infer that there wouldn’t be a movie unless said hobo had some people who richly deserved to have said shotgun turned on them. Am I wrong? Not according to Jason Eisener, Rob Cotterill, and John Davies, who wrote the script for this homage to the stupid, silly, utterly fun grindhouse classics of the seventies. Davies is new to the scriptwriting business, but Eisener and Cotterill gave the world the equally stupid/fun Treevenge back in 2008, so you can be reasonably certain that yes, this movie is going to rock. And it will not let you down.
The hobo in question, played by the wonderful Rutger Hauer (Bladerunner), is never named. And why should he be? He’s an everyman figure from a long tradition of wandering everymen. He decides to settle down in a bucolic small town, get himself a nice little house with a picket fence and a lawn he can mow. It’s the American dream, right? Unfortunately, our hobo hopped off the train in the wrong town indeed; the entire place is corrupt. Even the air smells like violence. Less than five minutes after he heads into town, he’s approached by a guy who produces bumfight videos, but on a whole other level than we’re used to seeing in the real world (two bums enter, one bum leaves!). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It seems that, in order to get his bucolic small town to actually be bucolic, our hero is going to have to do a bit of cleanup. So he takes the money he’s been saving to buy a lawnmower and instead invests in a shotgun…and a whole lot of ammo.
It’s ridiculous, it’s basically plotless (though the “let’s clean up the corrupt town” plot was popular enough in the seventies that I can think of a half-dozen movies that used it off the top of my head—at least one of which, Walking Tall, has been remade in the last decade), and as long as you don’t mind the clearly over-the-top violence, it’s a barrel of fun. I will say that Eisener and co. do overplay their hand in establishing that the violence is over-the-top from the get-go, and some of those early scenes are pretty uncomfortable viewing until you’ve figured out that they’re going out of their way to emphasize the fakeness, the cartoonery, of the violence. Once you’ve got that idea, it turns into an all-out romp, and if you’re not rooting for the hobo after fifteen minutes, man, you just don’t have a heart, or at least not a beating one. Eisener has given us a universal character, done his best to make that character sympathetic (and did a pretty durned good job), and then let him loose.
If the movie has a failing, it’s that Eisener, when he gets to the movie’s climax, pulls his punches at a crucial time. Yes, it works in the sense that the movie is resolved satisfactorily, but Eisener, by that time, has the weight of four hundred plus years of everyman narratives weighing down on Rutger Hauer’s shoulders, and changing the way this narrative works out, even if it does play well in Poughkeepsie, kind of undercuts all that history. I know I’m being hypocritical here (I dinged, rather heavily, Ann Patchett for sticking to the classical climax in Bel Canto rather than updating it for a more modern, realistic ending), but I will rationalize that by saying that Eisener did such a great job in building the hobo’s character that I wanted to see…this movie work out differently than it did, which is about as much as I can say without venturing far into spoiler territory.
Either way, it’s a fantastically fun little movie, well worth your time. Check it out. *** ½
TRAILER. YOU KNOW IT.