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Monday, 15 August 2011

Review - Hobo With A Shotgun

Stemming from a fictional trailer, that originally appeared within the full-length Canadian prints of Tarantino’s epic GRINDHOUSE, this was the winning entry in an internationally-run competition. With a title that is deliberately short and sweet, it stars Rutger Hauer – he of numerous 1980’s Guinness adverts, and most famously playing the role of Replicant Roy Batty from BLADE RUNNER – as the titular character, who is becoming more and more entrenched with his life as a homeless man, having to endure the society’s never-ending contempt and pity on a daily basis.

Set in the near-future, or perhaps even a very near-past, the Hobo is used to witnessing the worst of civilisation: being spat at, kicked, ignored, and treated even worse than many pets. He has seen it all. His world is in a constant state of flux, surrounded by parasitic humans, and a police force that is owned and run by a local criminal warlord called Drake.

When he intervenes in a robbery at a pawnbrokers, having shotgunned the criminals, he drops off the leader at a local police station, where he expects to be rewarded: not financially, but from the cup of human kindness. However, the police are as bad as the criminals, and he is mistreated and left to rot with the remainder of society, as it slowly descends into an eternal hell. With a shotgun, and one rescued prostitute in tow, he decides to take-on organised crime, and rescue society, one shell at a time.

With a title like HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN and one of the greatest character actors in cinema history, you would think that this film would be a greatly enjoyable piece of schlock, paying homage to those low-budget revenge flicks. The likes of which were regularly regurgitated onto VHS throughout the 1980’s. And whilst you wouldn’t expect a masterpiece, the movie should at least be as fun, and cheese-filled as the very films it is attributing itself with.


What we get here is a shambolic embarrassment that no one in their right frame of mind can garner any kind of genuine satisfaction from. A film that could have been amazingly cheesy: 90-minutes of frantic, four-letter fun – sex, violence, drugs – the works! Instead, director Jason Eisener’s first real effort for the big-screen is as bedraggled, unkempt and as much of an eyesore as the hero. It’s all well-and-good paying tribute to superior films, or even taking them on and poking fun at their failings, but if this is what you intend to do, then you have to know both your source material and your core audience. It’s almost a pre-requisite in fact. Research, research and more research is needed, so that you can take care not to step too far from the boundaries of the genre you are pastiching. If honed well enough, your fans will adore you, and the makers of the very movies you are slyly taking-off, will poor adoration on to your magnificently deceptive and knowing reinvention of a classic.

This is not that piece of work. In fact, if you were to screen HOBO... side-by-side with genre titles like FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE, THE EXTERMINATOR, and any number of 1980’s action thrillers, (LETHAL WEAPON, COMMANDO, DIE HARD), you’d be pushed to see which had been made this year. And this, for me, is where the problem lies with HOBO. It mixes so much together, that it can’t truly decide what it wants to be. Is it aiming to be a black comedy? A revenge movie? An action film, or a combination of these? Likewise in its setting, there are elements taken from a whole host of other films such as HARDWARE, ROBOCOP, FIST OF THE NORTH STAR, MAD MAX, TETSUO THE IRON MAN, that it is at war with itself. Its numerous parts – sci-fi, drama, black comedy, western, revenge flick, gorefest - outweigh the whole, and the film suffers badly.

If we take it as a straight homage, then HOBO... fails. It’s not a black comedy, as there’s little to laugh at or even laugh alongside. There are horror elements that border on tasteless, that sadly protrude from the story, that are overtly jarring. One particular scene in question, is when a school-bus with around twenty or so young children are torched to death with a flamethrower. The camera shows little of the actual senseless murder, but does decide to try and find a semblance of humour in the sight of one child banging his fists against the back window of the vehicle, before the flames engulf him. Audiences are forced to stifle a laugh at the scenario, yet remain bewildered at what exactly we are laughing at. It’s incoherent at the best of times, and positively mind-numbing during the rest.

When you’ve sat through as many trash, horror, cult and exploitation films as regular Cinema Extreme-readers will have, you know when something is meant to be bad: the kind of so bad, it’s actually damn good. Yet, HOBO... just falls by the wayside. It staggers along for 90 minutes, faltering and flailing the further it treks. Around a third of the way through, you reach a stage where there appears to be no option that the film can win you back. It has attained its nadir, and a quick death would be preferable, but it continues to drag its sorry carcass along, extending its own sorry, sordid demise as much as humanly possible, without an iota of sense.

I wanted to like this, I really did. I like Hauer, and think he has given filmgoers many memorably chilling roles. He is similar in many ways to that other great character actor, Udo Kier, and both have taken part in several low-budget gems, which mainstream cinemas have chosen to ignore, but which those fans of cult cinema have long cherished them for. Here though, we walk from one unmitigated disaster of a scene, to another unmitigated disaster, and the further along the path the audience travels, the more incoherent a mess we unveil. By the truly abrupt ending, credulity has been stretched to within an inch of its life, and there’s nowhere tangible that the film can possibly go, that can possibly offer redemption.

In fact, by the time the credits do in fact roll, Eisener pulls out another moment that is so shockingly awful, you wonder who the joke is on – the characters or us, the audience? I can’t actually spoil the ending by discussing it, so I shall, and in all honesty, if anyone can explain what the hell it is meant to mean – if anything – then please get in touch, as it left me laughing at the film, the cast and crew, rather than laughing with it.

If you are in your late-20’s or early 30’s, you may remember a Canadian cartoon about a loveably cute set of forest-dwelling creatures who lived in – as the opening narration on the cartoon explained:

...the Evergreen Forest. Calm, peaceful, serene. That is until Bert Raccoon wakes up. Luckily he has some good friends to help him out. Life would be simple in the forest except for Cyril Sneer. And his life would be simple except for The Raccoons.

THE RACCOONS had a famous, and actually very nice end-credits theme song, entitled “Run With Us”. And it is this song that plays out at the end of HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN! (See the video below!)

Yes, I wholeheartedly kid you not! From the very starting few notes, fear crept over me in the cinema, praying that this great cartoon theme tune, was not going to be the bombshell on which this cult movie came to its drab climax. But it did. And it does end with this song! As beautiful, memorable and hummable a piece of 80’s rock-pop as you could wish for, this music is how HOBO... a supposedly, gutsy, bloody, violent and trashy a film you could ever ask for, comes crashing down to earth with a near cataclysmic thud! Worse still, the version played out has been deliberately slowed-down, to sound as off-key as you can imagine!

Now, I have to ask: as the film and the cartoon series were both made in Canada, is there something Jason Eisener is trying to get his audience to link together? Is it just pure coincidence, that this reviewer is so totally anal, that he knew of this theme song, its origins, and the TV show it became synonymous with? Or, was it an absolute random selection of the greatest and most prestigious order? We shall never ever know. Hopefully, we may never have the misfortune to find out either!

Taking a step back for one moment, I should explore the film with you in further detail. Alongside Hauer, Canadian actor Brian Downey takes the pitiful role of Drake: the sadistic crime kingpin. Downey is best known in the UK as the lead in the 90’s TV sci-fi show LEXX: TALES FROM THE DARK ZONE. In the role of the prostitute, Abby, is relative-newcomer Molly Dunsworth. Hardly a career-defining character, Abby is relatively well-developed in the film, but that isn’t saying too much. Most of the time, her dialogue is barely credible. Hauer’s dialogue is likewise. So too, Mr Downey’s. In fact, Hauer’s voice has been so drastically altered for the film, that you can hear every single raspy note of it...

...Well, actually you can’t.

Therein lies the problem: Hauer’s voice has been altered so ineptly, to be evil, psychotic and whispery, that he is barely coherent at all. He sounds dubbed, but maybe that was the point, to be a pastiche of many of the European horrors of the 1980’s, like Argento and Bava, where cast members were post-synched, due to many of them not having English or Italian as their mother tongue. Who knows?! Downey hams it up, but comes across as too cartoony to be considered a truly devilish villain, which is a shame, as – given the right roles – he can be a wonderfully subtle actor. Maybe it is the script that is to blame, rather than the cast themselves? Seeing as Eisener co-wrote this with partner John Davies, he needs to accept the blame for the film’s ultimate failure. An incoherent cast, bolted onto a script that passes as embarrassing, on top of all the other troubles, and we are left with a film that almost deserves to die a quick and harrowing death.

And yet...

And yet, as I write this, there are moments: tiny fragments of genius that Ed Wood would be proud of. The gore is designed to be slightly naff, so as not to be truly offensive or tasteless, and whilst it accomplishes this with relative aplomb, it also verges on the sadistic and brutal. I genuinely felt uncomfortable with the school-bus massacre mentioned earlier. There was this almost barbaric relish in the way the scene is served-up for the audience to savour. Likewise, the moments when Abby has her arm placed into a lawnmower propeller, that blends it into a pulpy mash up to the elbow. It shocks me, yet enthrals at the same time. Although – with apologies for repeating myself – once more, it’s a bad homage (or perhaps rip-off would be more appropriate here) to Peter Jackson’s bloody climax in BRAINDEAD (aka DEAD ALIVE).

The dialogue is unintelligible and turgid for the majority of the film’s duration, but an occasional gem pops-up that almost – and I do mean almost – warrants an award. But these bon-mots are as rare as the talent behind or in-front of the camera! The cinematography is passable, and considering Canadian film-maker Karim Hussain was in charge, this is not a positive mark. His work on HOBO... comes across as slovenly, yet this is the genius behind the bestial beauty of SUBCONCIOUS CRUELTY. Garish neon and fluorescent colours punctuate the movie, as well as clouds of industrial smoke and wall-to-wall concrete, that give it the look and feel of something from 1983, not 2011. It’s almost as if, the filmmakers have decided to put as little thought into the entire creation of this film as possible, with the exception of the title. At least with SNAKES ON A PLANE, the film works as a homage, a pastiche, a parody, and an entertaining work of cinema!

Finally, there’s the story. I understand that this movie isn’t meant to be wholly believable, but even by genre standards of the kind it reminds audiences of, it goes off the scale, to the point that it actually self-harms! You can’t make a film where scenes are almost stolen outright  from superior works of yesteryear, or are so slap-dash, that they fail to blend in correctly. Soldiers in robotic armour that signal links more with POWER RANGERS and Dr Doom from Marvel Comics serials, than they do with THE TERMINATOR. Seen in the context of HOBO... , the robotic creatures seem almost as if they had been brought-to-life by an eight-year-old. When Hobo and Abby are cornered at the end of the film, the scene plays out almost frame-by-frame of that in ROBOCOP when Alex Murphy as RoboCop is forced to evade the very police force he once worked for. Quite literally, camera frames are identical! This kind of – dare I say it, cinematic plagiarism – should be outlawed!

Drake’s posturising is not unlike that of the character of Robert G. Durant, played so memorably by Larry Drake in DARKMAN. (Or maybe this is yet another lazy homage/in-joke?) The corrupt police force (see ROBOCOP again). The punk-rockers (see THE TERMINATOR). The devastated city interior (ROBOCOP, MAD MAX, FIST OF THE NORTH STAR, etc, etc). The list goes on and on, and on! It’s all been done before, done better, and is now, cinematically-speaking, old hat, if I’m honest.

Will this film revitalise Rutger Hauer to Western audiences, as Tarantino did with the career of John Travolta in PULP FICTION. No. Will this film be remembered fondly in 12 months time? Unlikely. Will cult film fans care? Not one iota.

A clich├ęd filmic mash-up, to coin a GLEE phrase, that is as about as sophisticated as that same TV series. A real waste and one of this year’s biggest disappointments.