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Review: ‘Pawn Shop Chronicles’ Starring Paul Walker, Elijah Wood, Brendan Fraser, Thomas Jane, Matt Dillon, Lukas Haas & More

Review: 'Pawn Shop Chronicles' Starring Paul Walker, Elijah Wood, Brendan Fraser, Thomas Jane, Matt Dillon, Lukas Haas & More

There’s an alternate reality
somewhere, wherein “Pawn Shop Chronicles” is not released in theaters on July 12th,
but instead is projected on the wall of a small, narrow hallway in Comic-Con,
never to be heard from again. Somehow, a cast of capable, popular actors show
up in what seems like the very last vestiges of early aughts direct-to-DVD
Tarantino bite-offs, a movie not so much directed as punched into existence by
director Wayne Kramer. Once considered a promising filmmaking voice (his “The
” netted Alec Baldwin an Academy Award nomination once upon a time),
Kramer is now reduced to essaying a flippant grotesquerie that carries the
names of nineteen producers and executive producers, the primary one appears to be Fred Durst.

“Pawn Shop Chronicles” concerns
three stories of varying degrees of taste that center around a dusty,
middle-of-nowhere bric-a-brac exchange in the Deep South. All stories are
superficially linked through the non-involvement of Vincent D’Onofrio, here
playing a harried small-business purveyor very much used to being held up, but
forever attracted to the lure of a hard bargain. His first customer is a
backwoods doofus (Lukas Haas) who trades in his shotgun for gas money so he can
get to the scene of a robbery, though he seems to have forgotten he’ll need the
gun for said robbery. Ha. Ha.

When he becomes roadkill, we
follow his brother (Paul Walker – surprisingly not terrible!) and his redneck
associate (Kevin Rankin) as they plot to knock over a local drug dealer. But as
white supremacists, they soon realize that the two of them have something in
common: they have no understanding of why they should hate black and Jewish
people. The prolonged conversation between them is meant to illustrate the
maddeningly arbitrary standards of being racist, but instead it feels like two
unskilled actors slowly finding their way through condescending improv.

A second, more disgusting
story, finds Matt Dillon as a newlywed who comes upon the pawn shop and finds
the ring of his murdered first wife. Dillon gives this role a weird sort of
gravitas as he engages in a half-hearted detective story to find his apparently
alive spouse, furrowing his brow as if he thinks this is a cutting expose on
abduction. This story climaxes in a double dose of disreputable dumbness,
involving sexual slavery and elaborate only-in-the-movies torture methods that
reveal, in between this, the “Maniac” remake, and “Sin City,” that Elijah Wood
is one sick little Hobbit. This is exploitation-style grist, of course, but the
film’s grim sense of humor feels tone-deaf and arbitrary, slipping in between
arch irony, dark inevitability, and wacky pratfall hijinks. The film’s reminder
of this spirit involves the framing device that this is all happening inside of
a comic book, a pandering flourish of empty significance.

The third, and most embarrassing
storyline, finds a dull-witted Elvis impersonator (Brendan Fraser) coming to
the state fair broke and loveless, bartering for goods and services with
tickets to his show that no one wants to see. Fraser, no longer under the
pressure of fronting major studio films, has embraced his inner ham, and his
shtick (which extends to end-credits b-roll, unfortunately) relies heavily on
high pitched squealing and moaning, though it’s not clear if the joke is meant
to be that he’s a terrible Elvis impersonator. His stage show, where the climax
of all three stories occurs (though this is based on lazy coincidence rather
than a coherent single story), is the only part of this film that feels organic
and real: Fraser’s presentation, which involves Elvis gestures over public
domain noise, is meant to generate insta-laughs. But the apathetic reactions of
the crowd, the frowns of backstage carnies, and the overall dedication to this
sad, flailing presentation reflects a certain small-town dissatisfaction
towards flashy would-be spectacle, peeling back the sadness of these sorts of

Of course, the film doesn’t
lean too hard on downer punchlines, finding digressions in whatever comic
mischief surrounds these characters. It’s all very first draft, with a layer of
supernatural permeating the events that suggests added attempts to connect
three wildly disparate storylines. The pawn shop itself doesn’t even factor too
heavily in the first or last story, simply providing a pitstop for a sea of
character actors that includes DJ Qualls, Chi McBride and Ashlee Simpson. Through
most of the film’s punishing 112 minute runtime, you can imagine a bemused,
distracted D’Onofrio leaning on his display case, scratching his chin, shrugging
at the pointlessness of life. It’s a detour you keep wishing the film would
make. [D-]

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