Hobo With a Shotgun is not going to appeal to a certain demographic. What that demographic is exactly I can’t say, but you’ll know if you’re not in that group if the words “Hobo with a Shotgun” don’t fill you with a certain level of giddy glee. This is not a high concept movie. This is a movie about a man—a hobo, if you will—with a shotgun. And he shoots people. He shoots a lot of people. But they probably deserved it.
HWAS began as the winner of a trailer contest set up by Robert Rodriguez in concert with his half of the Grindhouse tandem effort with Tarantino. And this movie feels like it oozed its way out of the gritty back alleys of the seventies. The dialogue displays a complete lack of pretension, and special effects all look like practical exploding puppetry with geysers of blood and drooping intestines. Heads are blown off. Baseball bats with razors slice men open. Manholes replace sand as the requisite burial-up-to-the-neck method.
You will not find subtlety here.
Rutger Hauer grimaces and growls his way through the movie as the Hobo, fresh off the wrong train into the wrong Town, the ironically named Hope Town. Hope Town is run by a nihilistic bastard named the Drake who murders and terrifies the doomed citizenry. He’s aided by his two sons, heir apparent Slick and the less favored Ivan. Both spoiled sons display a penchant for rape, murder, debauchery and anarchistic mayhem—chips off the old block.
The Hobo, fatigued with his restless life, dreams of a real life mowing lawns and making an honest buck. But this is not a town for dreams. When he saves the life of the totypical hooker with the heart of gold-plate, he’s shown a flicker of a decency you can tell is unfamiliar to him. But soon the decision has to be made: making his dreams come true, or the shotgun hanging on the wall.
Since the title of the movie isn’t Hobo With a Lawnmower, you can tell what choice is made. The Hobo begins cleaning the scum off the street, one shell at a time. Soon the Drake puts out the word and the Hobo finds himself on the run from a town that wants to kill him, and from The Plague: a pair of armored psychopaths that look straight out of a Mad Max nightmare. Their arrival is accompanied by their own crash of lightning. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
I couldn’t help smiling all the way through the movie. I love it when a concept is true to its own abhorrent depths, and HWAS was perfectly willing to cross every line and hit every grace note with a complete, sleazy lack of nuance, class or taste. Hauer, a skilled actor in everything he’s been in, gives himself over completely to his role: he’s an angry, wrathful juggernaut with an unending supply of shotgun shells. Brian Downey’s Drake is a despicable, cartoonish overlord, and Molly Dunforth is sweetly believable as a hardened hooker who hates her work but is resigned to the fact that there’s no place for her anywhere else in the world.
The Soundtrack is straight out of a rundown theater. Even the song blaring over the end credits is pure 80’s cheesepop.
In the end it’s the little touches that make this movie so enjoyable. It’s not for everybody, but you’ll know if it’s for you just by the title.