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Hipster Holy Grail: Shotgun (1989)

The Hipster Holy Grail is my ongoing quest to review an obscure movie before it becomes cool to talk about it. Good, bad, doesn't matter.  It just has to be at least 10 years old and have less than 1,000 ratings on IMDb. This week, I watched....

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews

This week I have a disclaimer: I didn't give Shotgun a proper viewing.  I was present for it, but not engaged, for reasons I'll get into later.  If you're like me and you're hoping to step away from the nastiness of our current political climate / the slow creep of fascism, do yourself a favor and skip this one.  Otherwise, I think this probably is a decent good-bad movie, but I just couldn't get into it.

My Rating: My gut reaction is a 1 / 5, but if I ever re-watch it in a better mood, this is probably more like a 3 / 5 (Novice Bad Movie)

The Plot Summary

The film opens with an ambiguously powerful lawyer/businessman/scumbag type, whose name I never caught so I'll call him "Ronald Dump" (I'm a clever satirist, you see), visiting a backwater village in Mexico.  Ronald is up to some nebulous shady scheme that involves illegal dealings with the village - probably drugs or something - and wants to buy the town itself.  The guy he's talking to says no, so Ronald and his goons kill everybody.

Then Ronald goes back home to the US for some celebratory misogyny.  And here's where I have to reiterate my disclaimer above and admit that I'm not going to describe this properly.

[Warning - Overt political content]

Y'see, back when our country elected a sex offending Nazi as president, I thought to myself, "Ha, it would be funny if I made January an apocalypse-themed month."  Then I realized that, although the last couple of movies had their high points, I wasn't actually having fun.  I was pretty depressed.  So I said to myself, "You know what I can do to make myself feel better?  I'll watch some over-the-top '80s action movie instead."

And what happened?  Well, in the first twenty minutes, a rich white asshole with orange hair shoots up a bunch of Mexicans, makes racist jokes about it, talks about how rich and awesome and powerful he is (and how he gave a terrific speech, truly terrific, everybody loved it), and then goes and punches the shit out of a prostitute so he can get a boner.

That's about when my brain checked out and I stopped paying as much attention as I usually do.  Shotgun might actually be good fodder for a drunk movie night - there's certainly a lot of trashy stuff in there that's usually fun - but I just couldn't get past the ickiness of it.  Even knowing that Ronald Dump was likely to get a shotgun blast to the face in the end.  It's too real right now.

[End of overt political content]

So, yeah, I'm going to give you a bastardized version of the story.  I apologize in advance.

Anyway.  The first point of ambiguity for me, aside from who the bad guys are, is how many of them there are.  From what I gathered, Ronald has an assistant who looks almost exactly the same who helps him with his gross boner games.  The scheme goes like this: the assistant goes around the city streets prowling for hookers, and when he finds one, he'll take her back to a seedy motel where Ronald is dressed up in gimp gear.  Then the assistant steps out of the room while Ronald beats up the prostitute, usually leaving her with broken bones and/or scars, and then comes back in to toss some cash on the floor.  Then the two of them hightail it out of there.  Due to the editing / me not paying attention, I wasn't always clear if they were separate people, though.  There were many times when I thought it was just one guy who had a Fight Club-esque break from reality.

Regardless, let's move on.  Ronald's going around beating up hookers because he's a piece of shit.

To the movie's credit, everybody immediately recognizes how disgusting the violence is.  So, it's not like there's a bunch of people sneering and going, "Who cares?  She was just a hooker.  She shoulda known that would happen to her some day."  The first prostitute who is beaten up, Rhonda (Donna Ball), has friends from all walks of life, and they are all universally appalled at what happened to her.

Among those friends: vice cops Ian Jones (Stuart Chapin) and Max Billings (Rif Hutton).  Jones and Max are called in to investigate Rhonda's beating.  Both have a lot of "this city has gone mad" anger when they see women being victimized.  As it turns out, Jones is currently dating a prostitute and it strikes a particular chord of panic in him knowing that his girlfriend might be next on Ronald's list.

Long story short, they investigate for awhile, they commiserate, they get angry about the failings of the justice system, and then one day Jones's girlfriend is found dead.  This ends up being the final twist to push him over the brink, so now he's decided he doesn't have time for things like due process or rights.  He's out for blood.

Jones and Max keep digging and follow some more leads until Jones snaps and bludgeons a suspect.  He resigns / is fired from the force and becomes a bounty hunter instead, since that allows him to work outside of the law a little more.  He and Max have a bit of a falling out over that, but they make up quickly and keep working together regardless.

Eventually Jones chases Ronald back to that Mexican village from the beginning.  He takes a shotgun and shoots his way through all of Ronald's goons, then aims a gun at Ronald who gives a big speech about how he's the best criminal defense lawyer of all time and he can totally get away with anything. Naturally, Jones shoots him.

Cut back to a police station, where Max stops just short of speaking into the camera to deliver an epilogue: "Well, looks like the State Department decided not to prosecute you for any of those crimes in order to preserve foreign relations, and you're totally free to go about your business. Congratulations!"  Then they flip off the police chief and leave.

What I Liked / Didn't Like

So, obviously there's a lot of content that I'd put in the "didn't like" category this week, but that's not really the movie's fault.  It's not like it was hiding it or anything.  The plot description on IMDb is, "A detective hunts down a sadistic misogynistic maniac."  That's 100% accurate.

Shotgun feels like it's probably a decent good-bad movie to watch with friends, although you have to make sure said friends are on board with some unpleasantness.  The acting is the right level of over-the-top, with everybody constantly growling and lamenting society.  And there's not a touch of irony to be found, so it doesn't have that shitty aftertaste you get with intentionally bad movies.

There were a few moments that I actually did think were pretty funny despite my overall mood. Shotgun is sincere, but has a grotesquely skewed understanding of how the world works.  It leads to some strange moments where the characters are taking everything so seriously, and yet somehow not seriously at all.

Here's what I mean.  One of the early leads that Jones and Max chase is a sleazy video store / porn shop clerk who's got an ear to the street.  Said clerk is messing around with a VHS tape when the cops arrive, and Max says something like, "So, what do you have this time?  Kiddie porn?"  The clerk realizes he's been busted, and he tries to run until Jones points a gun in his face.  They parlay that into an interview, and the clerk tells them all he knows about Ronald's crimes.  Then Max goes, "Thanks.  Now go burn that kiddie porn."  And they just leave - that's that.

The universe of Shotgun is so sleazy that kiddie porn is literally a throwaway plot device.  The cops' reaction is so flippant that they might as well have been talking about a bag of weed.

Or consider this: there's a part where Ronald's assistant has been trying to find him another prostitute to beat up, but he came up empty.  He goes back to the hotel room and sits on the bed next to Ronald, who is fully dressed in his gimp outfit, and says, "Sorry, pal.  Word is out on the street - they're too scared of you."  Then Ronald gets this glum, hangdog weight on his shoulders and sighs. ("Aww... that makes me a sad misogynist.")

I think I'll have to come back to this one another time and give it a second chance.  There's some good stuff in here, I'm sure of it.  It's just not good timing.  It's like watching Room after your kid just died.

How Much Hipster Cred Is It Worth?

It gets an obscurity bonus of 35 points for having just under 200 ratings on IMDb, plus a pedigree bonus of 10 points for being a PM Entertainment Group production.  I'll give it another 5 point bonus for having a titular theme song, and another 15 point "you've probably never heard of them" bonus for the cast as a whole.

That adds up to a total of 65 hipster cred out of a possible 100.  There's a chance it might actually deserve a recommendation bonus of 15 to 30 cred, too, but I won't know for sure until I try it again some day.  Maybe in a couple of years.

Where You Can Watch

You can stream Shotgun legally (for a fee) on Amazon, or, if you go now, you can watch it for free on Youtube.