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Hobo with a Shotgun shoots blanks 

Rutger Hauer is the show, the whole show, and nothing but the show in Hobo with a Shotgun, a throwback that, for all its bloodletting and supposed shock value, feels comparatively conventional and tame.

A nod to '70s grindhouse, '80s Troma, and any era's Death Wish-styled vigilantism, Hobo -- the second film in the new Back Alley Film Series (screening Thursday, Aug. 25; go to www.backalleyfilmseries.com for details) -- finds Hauer delivering a deeply committed, even moving, performance as the title vagrant, who lands in a town ruled by a tyrannical madman known as The Drake (Brian Downey). Disgusted by the violence he witnesses and feeling protective of a battered prostitute (Molly Dunsworth) he takes under his wing (in a relationship similar to the one between Chaplin and Goddard in Modern Times, complete with dreams of suburban bliss), the hobo decides that it's up to him to make this town respectable -- via shotgun, obviously.

Hobo with a Shotgun automatically taps into the cathartic pleasure of seeing scumbags go down -- whether it's a sadistic videographer or a pedophile in a Santa suit -- but get past the organ grinding and crimson cascades and there's very little of the go-for-broke zaniness that defined, say, Troma's The Toxic Avenger or even a Corman caper like Death Race 2000. And as far as grindhouse homages are concerned, last year's Machete easily chops this one down to size.

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