Before I begin this entry, I feel I should address Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which came out today. Honestly, I have no plans to see it. I figured that the franchise was washed-up (so to speak) ever since the third installment and the toxic critical reception has done little to convince me otherwise. Not to bash too hardly on a film I haven’t seen — that would be very unsporting of me — but might I suggest reading a good book instead?
Anyway, it’s just as well that this weekend’s big release is a film I have no interest in, because I’ve had Hobo with a Shotgun penciled in for 5/20 for a while now. Yes, I know that the movie has been available On Demand for a month or so, but tonight was the film’s debut in a local arthouse. I figured that if I was going to watch a movie with that title, I had to watch it on a big screen and theater packed with drunkards. I was right.
This is a film based on one of the old Grindhouse trailers, though neither Quentin Tarantino nor Robert Rodriguez had anything to do with it. I guess that makes it a cousin of Machete, one of my favorite films of last year. I also had a great time with Grindhouse itself, I gave a glowing review to Drive Angry and I still consider Shoot ‘Em Up to be one of my all-time favorite guilty pleasures. Yet my pleasure of this film was extremely tempered.
I knew going in that this movie had a paper-thin plot. A city becomes so over-run with crime that a homeless man is compelled to seek vigilante justice. It’s a simple plot, perfect for a bit of exploitation in homage to old C-grade cinema. I also knew that the movie would be campy and overflowing with gore, but that’s to be expected in a progeny of Grindhouse. All in all, I thought I knew what I was in for. I thought I was prepared. I didn’t and I wasn’t.
What really hindered my enjoyment of this film from the outset was its setting. I’ve seen fictional towns over-run with crime before, but Hope Town (affectionately called “Fuck Town” or “Scum Town” by the locals) is something else. Every square inch of the place is covered in graffiti. There are hookers on every street corner, all beaten regularly by their pimps. There are drug dealers and robbers everywhere. There’s a guy with a camera, gleefully paying homeless people to mutilate themselves on video. There’s a school bus full of children that get roasted with a military flamethrower. There’s a guy hung from a ceiling and beaten as a pinata by three naked women. There’s a guy who gets decapitated with a barbed-wire noose pulled by a truck and a woman who dances in the resulting fountain of blood. Oh, and the cops are so corrupt that they don’t just look the other way — they actively take part in the criminal activity!
This town is so impossibly bad that it goes past comical and right back around to being disturbing. So bad that the question of why any decent person would live there is enough to break suspension of disbelief. So bad that it would make Sodom and Gomorrah look like River City, Iowa. So bad that even Batman would think the town was beyond saving. So bad that Superman hisownself would lose his faith in humanity after two minutes there. This town doesn’t need a vigilante and it doesn’t need an honest police force. It needs a nuclear bomb. This city is so far into the gutter that the only viable way to improve it would be to wipe it off the face of the map, kill all the inhabitants and leave the radiation to ensure that it never gets rebuilt.
On the one hand, this situation makes it easy to sympathize with a mass-murdering hobo. On the other hand, this situation makes it easy to sympathize with a mass-murdering hobo! And really, that’s what this movie comes down to: You’re either the kind of person who enjoys copious amounts of fake blood getting spilled in ever more creative and appalling ways or you’re the kind of person who should never, ever see this movie. For my part, I’m not averse to the occasional bit of vulgar fun, but I still have a limit and this particular movie has none. Even Antichrist didn’t revel in death and dismemberment to the degree that Hobo does, and where the former film left me feeling totally discombobulated, the latter film just left me feeling unclean.
Still, there were two things that helped me get through this movie. First is that everyone onscreen was clearly having a great time in the process of making this movie, none more so than Rutger Hauer. That’s right: Rutger friggin’ Hauer plays the eponymous hobo. Not only that, but he plays the role with every bit of emotion he can muster while simultaneously making his one-liners sound badass. Just like Nicolas Cage in Drive Angry, Hauer clearly knows what film he’s in and adjusts the camp/drama ratio of his performance accordingly. Brilliant work, really.
Second is that I was watching this movie with a crowd full of strangers who were clearly practiced in how to enjoy hyper-violent cinema schlock. They laughed at every awful line of dialogue, every gruesome kill and every moment of awesomeness. Even as I found all of these moments either painful or repulsive, I couldn’t help but enjoy it by osmosis just a little.
As much as I didn’t enjoy Hobo with a Shotgun, I certainly can’t say that it’s a bad movie. The mutilations are presented extremely well, the dialogue hits that campy sweet spot and everyone on both sides of the camera is clearly having one hell of a time. This is a film that knows exactly what it wants to be and which audience it’s trying to please, working confidently to meet those goals without making any apology for it. This is a level of creativity, talent and resolve that I can’t help but respect at least a little, even when it’s being used toward ends that I don’t personally get any pleasure out of.
If you’re the kind of person who can’t stomach the sight of a head being smashed between two bumper cars, do yourself a favor and avoid at all costs. All others, go ahead and have a party. Seriously, this is the kind of movie that grindhouse nuts should focus a party around. It is never to be seen without company and it’s never ever to be seen while sober.