Sometimes a movie's title demands that you see it. A few years back it was Snakes on a Plane. Nobody cared if the movie was actually good. The internet hype was furious because the hook was right there in the title along with the promise of Samuel L. Jackson double-daring a bunch of slithery reptiles to hiss at him one more goddamn time.
Similarly, in 2007, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez teamed up for Grindhouse, a love letter to the exploitation double features of the '70s. Grindhouse included a series of trailers between the films promoting movies that "don't" exist. One of those trailers was for Machete, the tale of a Mexican day laborer (Danny Trejo) who goes out for vengeance after he's double-crossed by ruthless businessman. Again, due to fan hype, Machete became an actual film. Who doesn't want to see Danny Trejo go on a murderous rampage against The Man with a machine gun-mounted motorcycle? Oh yeah, Lou Dobbs.
And so it is with Hobo with a Shotgun: a concept that started as a fake trailer (for Grindhouse, no less) that has now become a real movie. It's Rutger Hauer as a hobo with a shotgun killing the shit out of cartoonish bad guys in ever more cartoonishly violent ways. How cool is that?
Hope Town is anything but. Overrun by crime and urban decay so virulent that it makes Detroit seem like The Shire, Hope Town is ruled by The Drake (Brian Downey) and his two psychotically sadistic sons, Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman).
Hobo (Hauer) rolls into town and gets his first taste of The Drake's rough justice when he witnesses the gory execution of The Drake's own brother in broad daylight amidst a crowd of onlookers who don't dare lift a finger in protest. Soon after, Hobo is forced to intervene when Slick attempts to kill a prostitute named Abby (Molly Dunsworth) after she attempts to stop Slick from executing a kid who owes him money. Hobo knocks Slick out with a sock full of coins and delivers him to the local police chief (Jeremy Ackerman) who, it turns out, is in league with The Drake. Beaten senseless, Hobo is left for dead.
Realizing Hope Town needs a Grey Knight, Hobo preforms acts of self-degradation for a Bum Fights-style cameraman in order to earn the money to buy a shotgun to protect himself and clean up the streets. And that he does. Gloriously so.
It's not subtle. Director Jason Eisner, working from a story by himself, Rob Cotterill and John Davies, delights in the gratuitous -- and sometimes bafflingly weird -- as victims of The Drake and his sons are tortured and killed by increasingly gruesome and imaginative means. The Drake's brother is fitted with a manhole cover around his neck and dropped into the manhole before getting a barbwire decapitation; victims of Slick are beaten to bloody death by razor blade-lined baseball bats. When Hobo begins to raise the citizenry's spirits Slick torches a school bus full of kids with a flamethrower to keep the townspeople in check. When that fails they call in a pair of armor-clad assassins known as "The Plague" to take out the troublesome Hobo. Their underground lair houses a tentacled beast that seems to be there just for an added layer of WTF.
Essentially a play on The Man with No Name westerns of Clint Eastwood, Hobo with a Shotgun transposes that template to the exploitation genre. It's ridiculously fun, gory as hell -- with some quality make-up FX -- and bizarre, though if you're looking for subtext you'll have to look elsewhere. Try hard enough and Hobo with a Shotgun could be seen as an allegory for the Iraq War with The Drake as Saddam and his sons standing in for Uday and Qusay while Hobo plays George Bush (Hobo's desire to start a lawn business -- clearing brush? -- might even bear this out) but that's probably a stretch. Its title is its mission statement and while Hobo with a Shotgun more than lives up to that name it's not meant to inspire deep thoughts.
Performances are mostly what they are--way over-the-top--though clearly everyone is having a blast and that goes a long way to giving the thin premise a ludicrously entertaining and weird pulse. Hauer typically brings his A-game, taking the proceedings deadly seriously while lending the film a near-prestige that it was never meant to have. The guy was born a badass and makes for a great anti-hero, rooting the film in a way a lesser actor wouldn't have.
If trashy, lowbrow, unapologetic exploitation cinema is your kind of thing than Hobo with a Shotgun is catnip dipped in LSD. If not, just go throw your money at Johnny Depp. You can't be helped.
The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
Morgan Spurlock is full of self-fulfilling ideas. The one-time stand-up comedian turned pseudo-muckraking documentarian gained fame when he decided to find out if eating Mickey D's three times a day for a month was bad for your health (duh) in 2004's Super Size Me. He followed that up with the opportunistically titled Where in the World is Osama bin Laden? Guess he finally got his answer.
Now Spurlock is back with The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. His penultimate, self-fulfilling, meta idea, Spurlock's concept here is simple: Satirize the ubiquity of product placement in films and real life by making a documentary funded entirely by product placements.
Spurlock hits the ground running, pitching his idea to various creative agencies who are all baffled by who would care for it, or who would perhaps prefer that no one noticed how heavily they are being bombarded by ads in almost every aspect of their lives. The indefatigable Spurlock marches on though, eventually securing sponsors ranging from Ban deodorant to JetBlue Airlines to the entire country of Aruba. Ultimately, it is pomegranate juice purveyors POM Wonderful who put up the bulk of his $1.5 million budget -- hence the film's official title: POM Wonderful presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.
But with the acquiescence of his sponsors also come contractual obligations. POM Wonderful is the official drink of the film (if he mentions Minute Maid's product it can only be to point out its inferiority); for Mini Cooper's support he can only drive a Mini Cooper; snagging Amy's Pizza means exclusively eating only their pizza and on and on. He's lucky Aruba didn't force him to shoot the entire film on a Caribbean beach. Before long even Spurlock seems overwhelmed by whom he owes his allegiance to. Eventually, he outfits himself in coveralls festooned with corporate patches like a NASCAR driver. His mustache completes the effect.
Along the way Spurlock interviews talking heads ranging from Quentin Tarantino and J.J. Abrams on the entertainment side to Ralph Nader and Noam Chomsky on the intellectual side as Spurlock explores the implications of omnipresent marketing. Unsurprisingly, QT doesn't do product placement in his films (Big Kahuna Burger is all him) while Nader, best known for his consumer advocacy before he became an election spoiler, advocates sleeping to escape the constant barrage of advertising. Conversely, Spurlock's conversations with ad execs and PR firm wonks reveal the insidious labyrinth of a business that seeks to fill every skyline and landscape with billboards, synergize entertainment with product crossovers and even muscle their way into public education via Channel One, a news broadcast beamed into high schools that includes advertising that is essentially subsidized by taxpayer money.
To say the least, the film outgrows its gimmicky premise. When Spurlock investigates in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where a law was passed banning all outdoor advertising he finds that people are generally happier and less distracted from a city beautified by the absence of billboards. Local businesses still thrive. Go figure.
Much like Super Size Me, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold works much better as an expose than sly satire. Spurlock has never been as clever or funny as he thinks he is (as exemplified by the "witty" ad campaigns he designs for POM) but his meta-gimmick does lay bare the troubling acceptance and lack of regulation for an industry that does its best to reinforce the idea that you are worthless and stupid if you don't own whatever it is they are selling. Though not in the film, Coors comes to mind; a company that thinks you are so dumb that you need their cans to change color so you'll know when your beer is cold. The lack of cooperation from many major companies is as telling of their corporate culture as it is of those that agreed to fund the movie.
Suprlock raises plenty of interesting questions for those looking educate themselves and perhaps take action in their own lives to rise above the dehumanizing designation of "consumer." He misses more than a few in the process but he can at least be lauded for raising the awareness of his audience.
Ultimately though, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, while excoriating the myriad ways in which the predatory pervasiveness of marketing contributes to psychological and scenic pollution, still ends up feeling like an act of unabashed -- and ironic -- self-promotion.
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