Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sundance ’11: Hobo with a Shotgun

Trailers are considered the movie industry’s most important marketing tool, but does it really make sense to start with a clever teaser and re-engineer an original film from there? Much like Robert Rodriguez’s Machete, Jason Eisener’s Hobo with a Shotgun started as a gag trailer for a fictitious grindhouse film submitted to a contest co-sponsored by Rodriguez. Unlike Machete, at least Eisener’s Hobo (trailer here) makes no pretensions to socio-political relevance, simply delivering sleazy action at its Park City at Midnight screenings during the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

Like the high plains drifter or Sanjuro, a mysterious hobo rides into town on the rails. He has a past that we will never know, but he has a dream—to buy a mower and start his own lawn care company. He is in the wrong town for that. This vaguely Midwestern burg is owned lock stock and smoking barrel by Drake, a poor man’s Joe Pesci kingpin, and his two sadistic idiot sons, Slick and Ivan. The Hobo gets a taste of how things work in town when he foils an attempt to kidnap the local hooker with a heart of gold, earning himself a beat-down at the hands of the crooked cops. However, the Hobo comes back for more, this time with a shotgun in hand.

As titles go, Hobo with a Shotgun certainly represents truth in advertising. Initially, it also has the vintage grindhouse look down cold. However, as the film progresses, it veers closer in tone to 1990’s Troma than 1970’s exploitation. Not only is violence ridiculously over the top, the villains (particularly the evil twins) look like they walked straight out of a 1980’s world of Dippety Do hair gel and cheesy metal bands with flying V guitars.

Casting Rutger Hauer as the Hobo was an inspired choice. Shotgun essentially tries to invert the classic 1980’s schlocker The Hitcher, inviting audiences to root for Hauer’s drifter killing machine rather than another boring first-initial Thomas Howell character. Unfortunately, the Hobo is absolutely riddled with angst, adding a layer of grimness to what is intended as a blackly comic romp.

In truth, like Machete, a trailer’s worth of this Hobo might be just about right. The opening credits hit the perfect nostalgic note and there are three or four meathead pleasing action sequences. The rest of the film’s brutal and nihilistic connective tissue simply gets tiresome. Be that as it may, those looking for gory laughs will probably find them in Shotgun, but legitimate grindhouse connoisseurs will more likely be disappointed. It screens again tomorrow (1/28) and Saturday (1/29) during this year’s Sundance Film Festival.