Friday, May 06, 2011

Exploitation Exploited: 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 when it opens theaters today, following its high profile Sundance screenings.

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. Its opening credit sequence 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 inverts the classic 1980’s schlocker The Hitcher, inviting audiences to root for Hauer’s drifter killing machine rather than another boring pretentious 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. Those looking for gory laughs might find them in Shotgun (at the expense of their souls), but legitimate grindhouse connoisseurs will more likely be disappointed. Not nearly as fun as the hipster amen chorus claims (not even close), Shotgun opens today (5/6) in New York at the Village East.