Pawn Shop Chronicles: Film Review

A fine cast is wasted in this lurid, grindhouse-style effort that strains for both laughs and shocks.

An estimable cast is featured in this trio of darkly comic tales revolving around the patrons of a pawn shop.

Squandering the promise displayed in such films as The Cooler, director Wayne Kramer delivers a trio of half-baked, Southern-fried gothic tales with Pawn Shop Chronicles. Despite its noteworthy cast who presumably had some time to fill between better gigs, this is the sort of instantly disposable B-movie effort that Quentin Tarantino would have chucked in the wastebasket after a first draft. Unfortunately, screenwriter Adam Minarovich did no such thing, resulting in this bizarre effort straining for anarchic humor that mostly falls flat.

Revolving around the disreputable patrons of the “General Lee Pawn Shop” manned by its owner (Vincent D’Onofrio) and his ever-present friend (Chi McBride), the film’s three segments are unified by enough lurid violence and sexuality to fuel several features.

The first concerns a pair of white-supremacist meth-heads (Paul Walker, affecting a none-too-credible Southern drawl, and Kevin Rankin) plotting to rob their local dealer. The episode, in which the pair engages in mock philosophic conversation about why skinheads hate Jews, is mainly notable for its hyperkinetic editing and stylized cinematography that give it the feel of an underground comic book.

In the second, newlywed Matt Dillon shows up with his new bride after a financial mishap only to spot the ring that belonged to his first wife who mysteriously disappeared years earlier. Desperate to track her down, he winds up encountering a sicko (Elijah Wood, who seems to be attempting to counter his wholesome image with such efforts as this and Maniac) who may have knowledge of her whereabouts. Although the episode’s numerous shocking twists won’t be revealed here, suffice it to say that it features a torture scene so vividly gruesome that subtitles are necessary to understand the victim.

The third and most blatantly comic segment features Brendan Fraser as a late-phase Elvis impersonator who makes a deal with the devil, or someone like him, for a brief moment of fame that features a chorus of naked women marching to his rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

In addition to those previously mentioned, the film also includes brief turns by the likes of Thomas Jane, Lukas Haas, DJ Qualls and Ashlee Simpson, none of whom are likely to have it prominently featured on their resumes.

While several of the performers invest their performances with an arresting quirkiness—most notably the amusingly deadpan D’Onofrio, who has a priceless throwaway moment involving a pesky fly, and Fraser, clearly enjoying his respite from hunky leading man status—their efforts are not enough to get Pawn Shop Chronicles out of cinematic hock.

Opens July 12 (Anchor Bay Films)

Cast: Paul Walker, Kevin Rankin, Elijah Wood, Brendan Fraser, Vincent D’Onofrio, Thomas Jane, Matt Dillon, Lukas Haas, DJ Qualls, Chi McBride, Ashlee Simpson

Director: Wayne Kramer

Screenwriter: Adam Minarovich

Producers: Jordan Schur, Paul Walker, David Mimram, Nick Thurlow

Executive producers: Fred Durst, Andrew Mann, Wayne Kramer, Joe Simpson, Carl Stubner, Todd Stubner, Matt Luber, Brandon Birtell, Steven Schneider, Michael Ohoven, James, Gibb, Stephen Hays, Peter Graham

Director of photography: Jim Whitaker

Editor: Sarah Boyd

Production designer: Anastasia Musaro

Costume designer: Christopher Lawrence

Composer: The Newton Brothers

Rated R, 112 min.