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Pawn Shop Chronicles

2013 | 112 min | R | 1.85:1

Pawn Shop Chronicles


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Theatrical release date

 12 July, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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Screenshots from Pawn Shop Chronicles Blu-ray

Pawn Shop Chronicles Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, July 15, 2013

Director Wayne Kramer certainly doesn’t make it easy to enjoy his work. Obsessed with the murky state of the human condition, viewed through a darkly comic prism, the helmer often treats his characters as pinballs, dreaming up an elaborate play field of sickness and violence to explore. After failing to dissect the state of illegal immigration in 2009’s “Crossing Over,” Kramer returns to his roots with “Pawn Shop Chronicles,” a warped collection of lurid stories that play like a cross between “Creepshow” and “Pulp Fiction.” It’s high-flying, wound-licking stuff, strictly for those who found the moviemaker’s 2006’s effort “Running Scared” an underrated masterpiece. Outsiders should seek their ugly entertainment elsewhere.

It’s a busy day at General Lee’s Pawn Shop, with owner Alton (Vincent D’Onofrio) and employee Johnson (Chi McBride) enduring a steady stream of desperate souls out to scrounge up some money. In “The Shotgun,” methamphetamine addicts Randy (Kevin Rankin) and Raw Dog (Paul Walker) are on the prowl for a big score, screwing over pal Vernon (Lukas Haas) as they attempt to cool their burning brains. Unable to acquire the proper means to a home invasion, the idiot duo decides to backstab meth producer Stanley (Norman Reedus) and take what they desire, arriving woefully unprepared for the twists and turns of the day. In “The Ring,” newlywed Richard (Matt Dillon) is shocked to discover jewelry at General Lee’s that once belonged to his missing wife. Squeezing pertinent information out of Alton and dumping his new bride (Rachelle Lefevre), Richard tears off to find the culprit responsible for ruining his life. Slamming around fry cook J.J. (D.J.Qualls), Richard makes his way to ghoul Johnny (Elijah Wood), a sicko with a special treat for his accuser waiting inside nearby silos. And “The Medallion” finds loser Elvis impersonator Ricky (Brendan Fraser) struggling with his performance dream, dumped by girlfriend Theresa (Ashley Simpson) on his way to a gloomy county fair gig. Along the way, Ricky is tempted with Godly might by street preacher Virgil (Sam Hennings), who offers the faux king glory in exchange for submission.

To set the mood for “Pawn Shop Chronicles,” Kramer has turned Adam Minarovich’s screenplay into a comic book, allowing the omnibus endeavor some leeway when it comes to outrageous incidents of brutality and confrontation. That’s not to suggest the film is lighthearted in any way. In fact, it’s quite severe despite a manic appearance and addiction to screen mischief. The graphic chapters of the picture are useful to help survive the viewing experience, otherwise “Pawn Shop Chronicles” would be another “Running Scared,” which was such a determinedly tasteless feature, it failed to register as anything but pointless fury from a limited director. Matters are more wink-happy here, populated by obsessive characters who bear hug their own quirk. At the very least, the grotesqueries are a little easier to approach this time around.

The stories that make up Minarovich’s stained, unshaven universe vary in intensity, with “The Ring” perhaps the most unrelenting in its discomfort, finding most of its crude highlights locked securely in the spoiler cage. However, it should be noted that Richard’s hunt for his missing wife takes him into some dangerous situations where his aggression doesn’t always pay off as heroically as he’d like to think. “The Shotgun” is the most manic slice of black comedy, spending quality time with two tweakers as they manage their limited thoughts for the day, feeling guilt over their treatment of Vernon and questioning their dedication to the White Supremacist cause due to their love of Jews. It’s certainly heartening to see Walker doing something different for a change, but the relentless redneck scattergun approach to the subplot wears thin quickly, watching Kramer lose himself in a shtick coma as jittery jokes turn into a Mexican standoff payoff where everyone deserves to die. “The Medallion” is more sedate, led by a stunningly palatable performance from Fraser as the aching, destitute Elvis impersonator laboring to make something of himself without any luck. Featuring an extended performance sequence, small town barber shop politics, and a climax that ties the crisscrossing, time-bending stories together, the journey is the most palatable, able to escape Kramer’s stress ball execution.

Keeping the elements funky and preserving surprise, Kramer toys with color schemes and aspect ratios, lending more western-style encounters a widescreen touch. It’s playful but not enough to energize the picture with the type of barbed tomfoolery it’s aiming for. Performances are knowing and the movie has a grungy grindhouse quality to it that bleeds sleaze, yet it’s difficult to take anything away from the feature besides mild irritation with its excesses and Kramer’s insistence that acts of violence should be cranked up to 11. “Pawn Shop Chronicles” goes from curious to overkill in a hurry, cementing the director’s reputation as a fire hose of a filmmaker, perhaps biologically incapable of subtlety.

Starring: Brendan Fraser, Paul Walker, Elijah Wood, Vincent D'Onofrio, Chi McBride, Matt Dillon
Director: Wayne Kramer

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