Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's Grindhouse double feature — consisting of Rodriguez's Planet Terror, Tarantino's Death Proof, and a bevy of fake trailers and vintage '70s "Coming Attractions" tags — was intended to evoke the pungent exploitation trash that once screened in drive-ins and seedy Times Square movie houses. Wry touches like abrupt splices, missing scenes, and scratch-streaked prints added to the fun, but Grindhouse didn't set out to recreate these disreputable genre films — which would be impossible, anyway — so much as to comment on them and imagine their most thrilling possible incarnation.
Arriving on the heels of Rodriguez's Machete, writer-director Jason Eisener's Hobo with a Shotgun is the second film to be spun off a fake Grindhouse trailer — an ironic bit of franchising, given Grindhouse's box-office misfortunes. Eisener's original trailer won a promotional contest for the film, and the hook was potent enough to earn him the money to expand it into a feature. By the evidence here, his goal was to produce the most lurid, violent, offensive film his fecund imagination could dream up, albeit one couched in the quotation marks that qualify it as harmless homage. Otherwise, an incident like the torching of a bus full of schoolchildren might not go down so easily.
Having logged time in plenty of disreputable films over his 40 years as an actor — his Blind Fury/Omega Doom double-feature DVD can be found in a bargain bin near you — Rutger Hauer is the right man to play the nameless "hobo" of the title. With grizzled face and gravel voice, the Hobo hops off a boxcar and wanders into Hope Town, an urban hellpit presumably just down the road from Irony Village. The sadistic marauders and lowlifes who run the city make a sport out of endlessly tormenting and killing the few remaining decent citizens. Here, even Santa Claus is a pedophile.
The Hobo isn't looking for trouble, just enough spare change to buy the $50 lawnmower that will turn him into a grass-clipping entrepreneur. Even after witnessing a public decapitation — and the attendant spectacle of a hooker dancing lustily in a spray of blood — he's willing to look the other way. But when he runs afoul of The Drake (Brian Downey as a gleefully depraved super-villain to end all gleefully depraved super-villains), the Hobo takes up arms and proceeds to blow away the creeps indiscriminately. Is justice being served? Can one man make a difference? Does it matter?
There's something pure about the crude pleasures of Hobo with a Shotgun, a pre-fab cult film that aspires to nothing more (or less) than the red-meat feeding of a feral midnight-movie audience. Unlike Machete, which smuggled a pro-immigration message in alongside the requisite T&A and bloodletting, the film has no interest in allegory — or themes, or subtext of any kind. It's just raw sensation, built on a series of shocks that keep topping themselves for cartoonish grotesquerie, from bumper cars used to smash heads to strippers swatting away at a human piñata. No amount of invention could extend this one-joke premise as far it as needs to go, but at least Eisener commits to his vision of relentless, unfettered, uncomplicated mayhem.
The closest thing the film gets to a message? "When life gives you razor blades, you make a baseball bat covered in razor blades." Sounds like a quote for a Successories poster in hell. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.