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PAWN SHOP CHRONICLES (2013)
White trash aficionados have something to celebrate this week! In the new low-budget action/horror/comedy PAWN SHOP CHRONICLES directed by Wayne Kramer (RUNNING SCARED, THE COOLER) there is a whole hootenanny of anti-PC goodness. With a cast including Paul Walker, Brendan Fraser, Elijah Wood, Norman Reedus, Matt Dillon, Vincent D’Onofrio, Thomas Jane and tons more, this surprisingly refreshing and quirky flick revels in racism, murder, revenge and bad taste in an entertaining way. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed Walker and Fraser more as actors than I have in this here motion picture.
Presented in a CREEPSHOW sort of fashion, the comic book style format introduces the viewer to a pawn shop in the South where the Confederate flag still flies high. The shop in question is run by Vincent D’Onofrio and frequented by his pal played by Chi McBride tying all three tales together. Both D’Onofrio and McBride share some incredible funny conversations about Santa Claus and a big black pick-up truck that seems to be hunting D’Onofrio down after he flipped him off during a moment of road rage. In between this wraparound story are the three shorts involving racist rednecks looking to rob a meth lab, a man who may have discovered the whereabouts of his missing wife and a down-on-his-luck Elvis impersonator.
The first and last sequences in this Adam Minarovich script are the best. Funnily enough, most of his early scripts, those he also directed, don’t seem terribly inspired or good judging on the uber-negative feedback that I found – I haven’t sat down with any of them yet so I can’t really say yea or nay. Even still, PAWN SHOP could have easily been a disaster, yet Kramer is able to give it a smart and satisfying presentation with interesting camera work and top-notch actors letting loose to really play with the ridiculousness of it all. Kramer really keeps things looking polished with a handful of crazy shots and wild close-ups, yet it all feels right at home with the story presented. You could make comparisons to Tarantino and possibly Romero (and the list goes on), yet it is done in such a creative and exciting way it feels very much like Kramer and Minarovich’s own vision.
Each section revolves around an object bought or sold at the pawn shop including a rifle, a ring and a medallion. The first installment – starring Kevin Rankin, Lukas Haas, Norman Reedus and Paul Walker – is a gleefully trashy beginning, one which offers Walker and Rankin trying to figure out why exactly they are as racist as they happen to be. That scene and their bizarre admiration of the band STYX is absolutely hilarious. Things get especially wicked when they try to rob from a meth lab run by Reedus. All four of the actors seem to be having the time of their lives digging into the white trash of it all, and it is especially fun to see Walker get completely lost in the role.
The second section works as well as the first with Matt Dillon discovering a ring he gave to his wife who disappeared years ago. Elijah Wood is on hand to play another weirdo, yet this time it is a very grounded and funny performance. However this segment tends to drag a bit as it feels slightly scattershot compared to the first part of the film. The entire running time feels unnecessarily long considering the manic nature of all the craziness on-screen. Finally the second part ends up tying itself together when the third segment revs up its engines. This final story offers up Brendan Fraser giving an inspired performance as an Elvis impersonator whose luck has ran out. The old “sign a deal with the devil” comes into play for a wickedly offbeat moment featuring a numerous pale, naked women wrapped in the American flag standing in front of an audience during an effective version of “Amazing Grace” sung by Fraser’s Elvis.
PAWN SHOP CHRONICLES is a wildly bizarre and politically incorrect mix of b-movie genres wrapped into one. Kramer – with the script by Minarovich – amps up the action and violence without pushing it too far – well at least for my personally warped taste. Will this offend certain groups? Of course it will and many may find its humorous look at such serious topics as revenge, racism and psychopaths far too unsettling. Yet thankfully for those willing to take this trashy B-movie wild ride – with the occasional detour - you’ll be in for a hell of a good time.
There are films made to incite the mind; to bring discussion of relevant issues. Pawn Shop Chronicles isn't one of them. It comes off as a Pulp Fiction wannabe but what it is, is good old fashioned, silly fun. One need not to think about what's happening and have a meaningful round table discussion afterward. It's more like water cooler talk.
A gun, a ring and a medallion all center around a particular pawn shop somewhere in the south where we follow skinhead meth addicts, a husband out for revenge on a sex slave-driver and an Elvis impersonator. Three separate tales mingle with each other while still standing on their own to bring about mindless but enjoyable entertainment. Don't look deep for meaning in Pawn Shop Chronicles but look for some laughs, tasteless humor and shocks along the way. Every character has a few screws loose and that's half the fun. The other half comes from the insane situations they find themselves in.
Some parts of the film slow down but not as much as it does in the third tale. Redeeming his stage act after he makes a deal with the devil, an Elvis impersonator portrayed by Brendan Fraser gloriously breaks into "Amazing Grace" which goes on far too long. The only thing that thankfully interrupts this is when they revisit the first story that's happening simultaneously. Finally, when the song is complete, they tie in the second story to wrap up the last.
I've seen better performances from all the class Hollywood vets Paul Walker, Matt Dillon, Lucas Haas, Elijah Wood, Vincent D' Onofrio, Norman Reedus and Brendan Fraser but it appears as if they had a good time kicking back and giving their acting chops a break. Not to say the acting is bad, which it's not. It's just refreshing to see Walker ramble on in a drug induced state and scream like a girl while Wood gets his kicks portraying a depraved sex addict with eerie conviction. Dillon is the only actor not straying far from his commonplace as he plays a man enjoying himself torturing another while searching for his indemnification.
Pawn Shop Chronicles won't go down in history as the best film ever. Not even close. But if you're looking for a film with twisted tales told in a reckless, albeit laughable, politically incorrect fashion, you can't do any better.
Pawn Shop Chronicles is comprised of a trio of interconnected shorts that appear to have been inspired by the pivotal scene in Pulp Fiction where Bruce Willis's Butch and Ving Rhames's Marsellus stumble into a pawn shop and suddenly find themselves trapped in a horror film. Director Quentin Tarantino has built his career on such tonally jarring transitions, of course, and with Pawn Shop Chronicles, screenwriter Adam Minarovich has let himself run wild in attempting to up the ante on the number of genre switcheroos that an audience will accept in any random 10 minutes of a film's running time. At times, the film resembles an extremely broad and violent episode of My Name Is Earl, only to offer, in other instances, poetic and suggestively transgressive imagery that faintly recalls Alejandro Jodorowsky and Álex de la Iglesia's films.
Minarovich and director Wayne Kramer seize on the sinister pall that hangs over pawn shops, which obviously profit from others' desperation, and spin a dark comedy of broken American dreams that follows a day in the life of a pawn shop owner (Vincent D'Onofrio) as he inadvertently ruins all of his customers' lives. The first story, which features an unusually game Paul Walker as a meth head who meets a flamboyant end, is the least interesting on paper, but Kramer enlivens the proceedings with purposefully showy aesthetics that invest the tiniest of gestures with a gonzo energy that's reminiscent of a Tex Avery cartoon.
The remaining tales, however, have a sick-joke grandeur that suggests what might have happened if O. Henry had ever written for EC Comics. The second story is a perverse wowzer that follows a recently married man (Matt Dillon) as he stumbles upon the truth of his first wife's disappearance, which sends him on a surreal journey that eventually leads to the home of a very disturbed individual played by Elijah Wood. The ending, which parodies the suggestion of ownership that's latent in the classic marriage arrangement, has unexpected bite.
The final story has an awkward opening that's marred by Brendan Fraser's unfunny mugging as an Elvis impersonator, but it builds to a commendably bizarre climax that features an army of recently liberated sex slaves marching into a country fair to a rendition of "Amazing Grace" as their naked bodies are wrapped in American flags. These images are so loaded you can probably locate whatever subtext corresponds to your ideology, but Pawn Shop Chronicles is probably best understood as a self-dare on the part of the filmmakers, who revel in the freedom that a limited theatrical release presumably allows. Kramer thankfully refuses to cloak his excessiveness in hedge-betting self-consciousness and the result is a gratifyingly disreputable B-movie blow out.
PAWN SHOP CHRONICLES features three different stories involving revenge, kidnapping, meth labs and murder. Each revolves around an object bought and sold at a local pawn shop. With a trio of racists, an Elvis impersonator and a man searching for his missing wife, there is a ton of un-PC fun to be had.