Movie Review: “Pawn Shop Chronicles”

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A “redneck ‘Pulp Fiction’” is such a natural idea for a grindhouse movie that it’s shocking that it took almost twenty years for somebody to come up with “Pawn Shop Chronicles.”
It’s got pick-em-up trucks and huntin’ bows, meth-heads and an Elvis impersonator. Matt Dillon goes nuts hunting whoever kidnapped his wife years before, Paul Walker attempts a Lynyrd Skynyrd Southern drawl and Brendan Fraser puts on the Elvis suit and tries to get a haircut fit for The King.
But stringing all that together is easier said than done. And for sheer ugliness, you’d be hard pressed to top the torture porn sequence that actor-turned-writer Adam Minarovich and once-promising director Wayne “The Cooler” Kramer shove in, stopping their violent yahoo comedy dead in its tracks.
Vincent D’Onofrio and Chi McBride are resident sages in the General Lee Pawn Shop, bickering over the accuracy of an African-American Santa Claus statue and the like.
Vernon (Lukas Haas) shows up to pawn his shotgun, and a comic book page illustrates “The Shotgun: The Road to White Gold” story. Turns out Vernon and his highly-strung/strung-out pals (Paul Walker  is one) need that gun to rob their favorite methamphetamine cook. There’s a lot of screeching about who they’re prejudiced against, and there’s blood — “This gurglin’. H’it ain’t normal” — on their way to carry out this ill-conceived heist.
“The Ring” kicks off when newlywed Matt Dillon sees his late wife’s custom-made ring in the pawn shop. He ditches his new bride and tears through this village of Greater Irwin to find out who had it and what happened to her. DJ Qualls and Elijah Wood figure in this episode of escalating and off-putting violence.
And then the down-on-his-luck Elvis impersonator (Fraser) tumbles into the town’s blood feud over barbershops. You are where you get your hair cut. Ashlee Simpson turns up in this one. And maybe the Devil.
Kramer uses whip-pans to comically stage pawn shop haggles over price and fixates on dilating pupils and images reflected in eyeballs as stylistic flourishes.
But as apt as the pawn shop is as a jumping off point, as much fun as the opening meth-mess is, it’s hard to hide the ugly once Dillon completes his long and tortuous quest. And the Fraser episode is one long missed opportunity, a joke that blows the punchline.
“Pawn Shop Chronicles” has plenty of random riffs and cameos (Thomas Jane shows up as “The Man”). It’s coherent enough, but entirely too long and unpleasant when it could have been one brutishly edgy hoot after another. Somebody should attempt a smarter take on this idea, because this version isn’t worth getting out of hock.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: R for violence, sexual material, graphic nudity, pervasive language and some drug use
Cast: Paul Walker, Matt Dillon, Brendan Fraser, Elijah Wood, Rachelle Lefevre, Chi McBride, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ashlee Simpson
Credits: Directed by Wayne Kramer, written by Adam Minarovich. An Anchor Bay release
Running time: 1:52

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