About halfway into Hobo with a Shotgun, I realized that what I was looking at was basically a slasher flick, but with the trappings of exploitation cinema of a generation or so ago. I expected the amount of violence, but not the goriness and near-torture-porn level of intensity—it got to be downright uncomfortable in parts, even as I laughed incredulously. But by the time the Plague showed up, I'd become comfortable with the world inhabited by Hobo with a Shotgun, and honestly wouldn't even mind a sequel—which I imagine could not help but be entitled Hooker with a Hook.
The plot is simple and direct, yet not wholly predictable. Rutger Hauer is our hobo, hopping off a train in a town run by a drug lord named the Drake—a man so depraved that he really belongs in one of those central African dictatorships so memorably described in The Onion's Our Dumb World. Hauer's character, despite an amusing and endearing brain-damaged-philosopher sort of approach to the world, is gradually pushed into fighting back against the rot all around him…resulting in a blood-soaked battle against impossible odds, the likes of which you can really only compare to any D&D campaign where you played a paladin who went to hell.
Notable supporting characters include the Drake's two sicko sons, attired like Tom Cruise in Risky Business, which just makes them more disturbing; the prostitute who takes in the hobo after he saves her from one of the aforementioned sons of Drake; and the Plague, two characters whom I can't really describe except to observe that they felt like they came out of a comic book.
Most of the reason I watched this had to do with Hauer; I wanted to see what he'd do with an obviously unique role. I credit his performance with the fact that I cared at all about anything that was happening in such a generally ridiculous film. Hauer's hobo moves between pathos and fury with equal genuineness, and as far as his action scenes, let's just say they didn't skimp on the "hobo with a shotgun" quality that we might have feared would fall by the wayside. Yet perhaps my favorite scene was his marvelous soliloquy to the newborns. (That, or the opening credits.)
The rest of the cast was adequate, but special mention must go to whoever played the Drake's lesser son, who out-coked-up all the other coked-up villain characters; though it was a secondary role, he had a large part in setting the tone of the narrative's overall conflict. On the other hand, every time I saw the Drake (Brian Downey, who I don't think I've seen in anything else), I kept thinking of all the actors I'd rather have seen in the role. Ray Wise tops the list; he even looks a little like Downey, but is much more convincing at being both menacing and manic. My other Drake should-have-beens included Robert O'Reilly, Steve Buscemi, and Regis Philbin, but now we're getting well beyond the realm of the plausible.
I mentioned discomfort before. If this movie had been slated to come out in oh, say, the last couple months or so, it would've been pushed back like a year. I say this because of the school bus scene. If you've seen the film, I'm confident you remember the school bus scene. It's the only part of the movie that shows any restraint at all, and thank heaven, because it is after all the school bus scene. No more need be said about the school bus scene.
Hobo with a Shotgun is pretty much trash, to be sure, but it's meant to be. And though it didn't have to, it does have some subtext, some satire, and some interesting characterization. In the case of the latter, it's sort of subdued, recalling the Ryan Gosling film Drive (which I found much less enjoyable and somewhat more disturbing than Hobo with a Shotgun). But if you don't think you could handle a Rob Zombie movie, then you'd probably be wise to avoid this one.
Star Score: 2.5 out of 5