Although it inevitably will be lumped in with the films of the modern Grindhouse movement (Planet Terror, Death Proof, Machete), Hobo with a Shotgun really doesn’t have the aesthetic style of the films that it is mimicking. Outside of its high concept, the film owes more to Tarantino and Rodriguez’s Grindhouse double feature (or many Troma films) than the actual Grindhouse movement, and I worry that many who watch the film are going to underplay its flaws as intentional or even necessary. These types of films weren’t made to be intentionally bad; that just happened as a result of having little money and unprofessional filmmakers. Disguising the flaws in the film’s acting, writing and direction under a Grindhouse aesthetic is probably brilliant, but sort of sad.
The obvious question here is, “Should a movie called Hobo with a Shotgun really need the highest production values?” — and, really, that’s a fair question. The film’s schlock has its purpose, but I never find it too much to ask for a script which is inhabited by more than half-written and dull characters.
With its world ruled by violence and a vigilante who must learn to match its violence in order to restore order, its closest kin is actually Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop. Sadly, Hobo with a Shotgun doesn’t quite match up with its predecessor’s wit or social conscience. Although it is a fun ride, there is truly nothing behind the surface of the movie — this isn’t technically a criticism, as I don’t believe the film intends to resemble anything striving for any sense of high art.
With all that said, for the film that was made, it succeeds, and there are some truly inspired moments — including a frightening scene involving a bus full of school children. Even with its obvious low budget, the gore effects are really well played — the damage is felt with every shotgun blast. The production design of the film is also near perfection. The color palate does much more to serve its homage than anything in the story or characters and it makes the film more visually interesting than most of its kind.
In a movie with no real depth, Rutger Hauer is able to bring some surprising sincerity to the titular role. And in a movie where the dialogue is mostly bad across the board, his crazy ass lines are delivered flawlessly and his crazy rants fit the character. If there is any brilliance in the film, it is in how it handles the main character. Hauer completely feels like a hobo and the film doesn’t unnecessarily give him any believable wisdom that we might have been forced upon us in a different film. Through his demeanor and his philosophies we can see why he has become homeless and what homelessness has done to deteriorate his sense of reality.
Many of the film’s taglines and one-liners are going to make a crowd erupt with glee. The over-the-top violence and profanity will fill many midnight cinemas with undeniable energy — and that is certainly the best way to view this feature. But for me, the film is trapped by its expectations. Although a fun, audacious film, it isn’t any better or worse than the many movies it draws inspirations from. So, despite its inherent success, Hobo with a Shotgun doesn’t do anything more for me than what The Toxic Avenger and its many sequels did. Certainly an ‘A’ for effort, but its ceiling isn’t quite as high.