As a resident of the surrounding area of NYC with a strange unstructured existence, I often find myself wandering through the city with hours to kill. I am blessed in that the compact and crowded island of Manhattan is a movie buff’s dream, filled with cinemas showing one of the best selections in the country. Textured underground indie theaters and massive vertical multiplexes are blocks from each other. The combination of all that is me frequently picking films based only on their titles and their starting times, then stumbling blindly into theaters with little idea of what to expect. It’s an activity I encourage you to try as well.
When I purchased a ticket for the virtually un-marketed and limitedly released Pawn Shop Chronicles, I had no clue what was about to happen. Oh boy. Talk about an excellent surprise of absurdism and depravity.
Pawn Shop Chronicles in an anthology style film penned by Adam Minarovich and directed by Wayne Kramer with a massive ensemble cast of recognizable faces. The interwoven stories all begin at a local pawn shop in a run by Vincent D’Onofrio and Chi McBride, and then follow strange and violent paths to destined conclusions.
The first of the primary tales features Paul Walker and Kevin Rankin (who, in spite of the awful white supremacist tattoos his character has, is bangin’ good looking in my personal totally-attracted-to-serial-killers opinion). They are two tweakers trying to rob their local meth cook played by Norman Reedus, who doesn’t show his face but looks awesome anyhow.
The next story follows Matt Dillon as a man who has just remarried and is driving to Orlando with his new wife, only to be led to the pawn shop by fate. Here he discovers evidence that his previous wife, who he assumed to be dead, might be alive and nearby. He tracks her, leading to the most gruesome and violent events of the entire film. Elijah Wood is involved. Just sayin’.
The final story is the most surreal of the three, featuring Brendan Fraser as Ricky, a bottom of the barrel Elvis impersonator. This one clings less to a story and is more situational bizarrities.
I later learned the director, Wayne Kramer also was the name behind Running Scared, an insane Paul Walker vehicle about cops, crime, and corruption. Running Scared is an urban fantasy nightmare, completely ungrounded from reality, and totally out of control. Pawn Shop Chronicles has that same unreal quality to it, but it feels less like a nightmare and more like the absurd exploration of destiny in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Breakfast of Champions”.
Comparing Pawn Shop Chronicles to Vonnegut is a bit extreme, but this movie is as extreme as a multi-story film set in a small Southern town gets. And I tend to read into things a bit much. Every other critic is lazily going to compare this to Pulp Fiction as it’s the most obvious comparison, for its structure and the penchant for sadism they share. Personally, I see no reason to dismiss this film for being inferior to Tarantino’s highly praised movie, or even bother comparing them. I actually found myself reminiscing about Sin City far more, considering the comic book aesthetic Pawn Shop employs. It is more in line with that sort of modestly budgeted Robert Rodriguez ensemble cast thing he’s been doing, and personally, I found this to be a much better film than anything that man has made in many years.
If the purpose is a shocking and entertaining adventure, I can’t really ask for more. I might ask for less, which may have given the film a nicer balance. There’s a bit too much going on in several sequences, and a few of the more bombastic attempts at humor fall pancake flat on the store’s floor. Still, I’d rather be overwhelmed by a film like this than yawning in my theater seat.
The cast is somewhat out of control, giving a handful of recognizable names opportunities to really push their limits and go wildly overboard. That’s what really makes this film what it is. Especially Paul Walker, who seriously needs to do more method acting like he does in this movie (boom). You’re not going to see Matt Dillon give the amped up version of an expected Matt Dillon performance as he does here anywhere else. And Pell James spends her entire screentime completely naked and covered in dirt. Yeah, Pell James doesn’t wear any clothes in this whole movie. Elijah Wood is slowly proving himself to be one of the creepiest dudes in Hollywood, and he really lets his true colors shine in this as well. And unlike in Machete, there’s actually a coherent story happening as well. The film isn’t an excuse for the actors to be crazy, it’s an opportunity.
Don’t even get me started on Brendan Fraser. Even the bits of his dialogue that don’t work are hilarious because the visual of Brendan Fraser as a fat, untalented Elvis impersonator is so hysterical, paired with his surreal storyline, it succeeds.