Wacky comic-book violence with a dark and seedy underbelly
Director Wayne Kramer’s adaptation of writer Adam Minarovich’s story is an irreconcilable, incomprehensible mess.Unfortunately, you just won't be able to make any sense of it. It purportedly tells the tale of three disparate groups of characters whose lives all intersect at a small Deep South town pawn shop, where their fate is quite literally determined by the choices they make. There’s a trio of wannabe white supremacist meth-heads who are planning to rob a local meth lab; there’s a honeymooning husband who becomes obsessed with an old wedding ring and goes on a quest to find out who pawned it; and then there’s a down-on-his luck Elvis impersonator struggling to hold it together for one last gig. The trouble is that the film operates on a second level, one which viewers aren’t likely to figure out until towards the end of the first viewing, and one which, even when you do cotton onto, doesn’t make any sense. Whatsoever.In watching Pawn Shop Chronicles (as it was originally known, although the re-title for UK audiences is presumably because they think we won't know what a pawn shop is even though it makes no sense) you won’t struggle to hold onto the three-arc narrative – it’s Pulp Fiction given a Southern Fried flavouring and seen through the eyes of somebody on crystal meth – but you will come across a couple of strange characters whose presence sparks off some feeling that there’s more at play here than simple non-linear multiple colliding story arcs. It turns out, in attempting to get to the bottom of who these characters are, that the Director and Writer weren’t quite on the same page when they crafted this affair, and so the reason why the film doesn’t make any sense is because the Director didn’t understand the story. That’s not really very helpful.
The film boasts an eclectic ensemble cast, and you have to feel sorry for the majority of them, because they are stuck in a weird comic-book-styled comedy-drama, where horrific things happen, and, more often than not, they’re uncomfortably played for laughs. Paul Walker purportedly headlines the piece, but he’s actually just one of a dozen supporting characters, each of which gets little over a quarter-hour screen-time. In his allotted fifteen minutes, though, the late Walker does deliver another unexpected performance, following on from his recent, surprisingly powerful effort, in Hours. He’s genuinely twitchy and off-the-wall as a tweaking meth, and makes an early good impression in the feature.
Fans of Running Scared, the previous collaboration between Walker and this director, should be warned: this is nothing like that little low budget gem.
Matt Dillon’s obsessed newlywed takes us on the hardest part of the journey (assuming you avoid trying to make sense of the twist ending, that is) as he investigates the origins of a long-lost wedding ring, and uncovers a seedy, unquestionably horrific sex farm run by go-to-deviant Elijah Wood (see: Sin City). The trouble is, he just happens to be channelling Bruce Campbell throughout his chapter, both in look and in behaviour, and the comic twists and turns along his otherwise dark and unpleasant voyage almost make it seem like the filmmakers are making fun of the sex trade (which, they’re not, although their true point is still completely obscured).
Then there’s an initially unrecognisable Brendan Fraser doing a very good, bad, Elvis impression, as he rumbles around in an out-of-gas Cadillac, trying to get to his final gig. His story becomes easily the most surreal, and it’s here where you really start to get a feeling for there being something going on beyond just badly placed dark humour and sheer depravity. All three groups intersect at a run-down pawn shop run by Vincent D’Onofrio and Chi McBride, who stand out, whilst forming the connective tissue for the rest of the affair, even though they are still largely victims of the narrative, probably not realising quite what was going on, despite, like the rest of the cast, investing admirably in the characters.
It would have surely helped if the Director and the Writer weren't trying to tell two different stories.
Is there secretly something truly worthy about this piece? No, not really. There’s two already half-baked ideas fused together by people who were interpreting the same story in different ways; neither of which would have really made for a great film, but either of which would have at least made for a comprehensible film. And if you’re prepared to forgive and forget, and assume it’s all just a meth-haze mess, then you’ll likely still struggle to countenance the depraved sex slave sequence amidst the rest of the comedy drama. It’s all a big catch-22 situation.
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.