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Pawn Shop Chronicles (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

Pawn Shop Chronicles


Starring Paul Walker, Norman Reedus, Elijah Wood, Brendan Fraser, Vincent D’Onofrio, Thomas Jane, Matt Dillon, Lukas Haas, DJ Qualls, Chi McBride, Ashlee Simpson, Pell James, Rachelle Lefevre, Michael Cudlitz, Kevin Rankin and Mark Povinelli.

Screenplay by Adam Minarovich.

Directed by Wayne Kramer.

Distributed by Anchor Bay Films. 112 minutes. Rated R.

I can't decide if Pawn Shop Chronicles is a brilliant post-modern pastiche of Southern gothic storytelling or if it is merely cheesy exploitative trash with some really quirky and sometimes smart dialogue. Honestly, it's probably a little bit of both.

Pawn Shop Chronicles seems to be attempting to be a southern-fried take on Pulp Fiction or a goofier version of David Lynch's below-the-Mason-Dixon tales like Wild at Heart. It never quite hits those heights, though, sometimes being a bit more reminiscent of a few really violent and surreal episodes of My Name is Earl. (And in fairness, Earl was a damned good, pointed parody of redneck living as well.)

Still, watching Pawn Shop Chronicles, one can't help but wonder – what was it about this very, very slight film (well, technically it is a compilation of three intertwined short films) attracted so much terrific talent on both sides of the camera?

Director Wayne Kramer was responsible for one of the best films of the last decade: the near-perfect 2003 Vegas fable The Cooler. The cast includes a whole group of impressive big-named b-level Hollywood talent: Paul Walker, Norman Reedus, Elijah Wood, Brendan Fraser, Vincent D’Onofrio, Thomas Jane, Matt Dillon, Lukas Haas, DJ Qualls, Chi McBride, Ashlee Simpson, Pell James, Rachelle Lefevre and Michael Cudlitz.

What would make all these people interested in a film that is populated with Elvis impersonators, homicidal little people, dim white supremacists, sexual predators, paranoid meth dealers, self-conscious racists, bitter gold diggers, robbers in clown masks, surly barbers, the Devil and a couple of dozen naked kidnapped women with Stockholm syndrome?

And did I mention that this is (mostly) a comedy?

I say mostly, because smack in the middle of the thing there is a torture porn scene of such disturbing violence that it pretty much ruins whatever oddball mood the film had been able to cobble together. The movie never quite regains its already off-the-wall stride, though it eventually lightens up considerably again.

The stories of the film all revolve around the titular store: The General Lee Pawn Shop in some dusty southern burg. (Oddly, the store is underneath a highway bypass in the opening credits, but the ramp seems to disappear the rest of the movie.) The shop is run by the bickering proprietor (Vincent D'Onofrio) and his African American co-worker (Chi McBride), who laze through the day, disagreeing about whether or not the boss is racist.

The first story starts when a dim crook (Lukas Haas) walks into the shop to pawn his rifle. He gets $20 but forgets that he was supposed to have the rifle to knock off a meth lab with his two tweaking buddies (Paul Walker and Norman Reedus). Lots of comic violence and surprisingly deep-yet-stupid conversation follows (like two white supremacists admitting to each other that they don't really particularly dislike blacks or Jews, but they keep going back to the meetings because the food is so good.) It all leads to a series of stupid mistakes and a badly botched robbery.

The second tale revolves around a newlywed couple (Matt Dillon and Rachelle Lefevre) that stops in the shop. The guy is shocked to find the custom-made wedding ring he had bought for his first wife (Pell James), who had disappeared under mysterious circumstances several years before. He dumps his new bride and goes on an obsessive hunt through the local underworld to track down his ex-wife by figuring out who had sold the ring, a search that leads to a dim small-time crook (DJ Qualls) and a soft-spoken local businessman with a porn fetish and a big secret (Elijah Wood).

The final segment revolves around an untalented Elvis impersonator (Brendan Fraser) and his girlfriend (singer Ashlee Simpson) coming into town for a local fair. He inadvertently gets mixed up in a blood feud between two snippy local barbers and also meets a mysterious man who may or may not want to buy his soul.

As you can see, there is some oddball shit going on here. And honestly, significantly more of it seemed stupid than clever to me. However, just when you are ready to completely write Pawn Shop Chronicles off, a pithy turn of phrase or a particularly tart interaction regains your interest.

Still, the characters are all too stupid and unlikable to really get invested in. Also, like I said earlier the violent turn the middle section takes goes beyond disturbing, it is completely out of place for a comic film. However, the direction by Kramer and the acting is mostly terrific and the film has a colorful eccentric vibe you won't find often. For people with a certain offbeat sense of humor, I could see Pawn Shop Chronicles becoming a cult favorite. Personally, though, while I respect the movie in parts, I would never have any need to ever see it again.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2013 All rights reserved. Posted: July 12, 2013.


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