“Pawn Shop Chronicles,” available now on Blu-ray and digital streaming, is a god-awful movie. Easily one of the worst movies of the year and this is the year that “Gangster Squad” was released. In brief moments, the film is transfixing, like when Brendan Fraser badly lip syncs to Elvis Presley’s “Amazing Grace” in front of a bevy of naked flag draped zombie women as meth lab explodes in the background. Those moments of sublime ridiculousness make the film all the more horrible because they remind the audience how totally the talents of director Wayne Kramer (“The Cooler”) were wasted.
The film is an anthology set around a charming establishment called General Lee’s Pawn Shop, operated by a never worse Vincent D'onofrio and barely conscious Chi McBride. The two men exchange terrible faux-Tarantino dialogue about black pornography and the racial characteristics of Santa Clause for seems like eternity but it actually just as long as it takes to be talked out of your will to live while a series of b-list celebrities pop by to grab the McGuffins for a trilogy of poorly conceived “Tales from the Crypt” stories. Imagine “Pulp Fiction” rewritten by a sentient jug of bong water and you have pretty good handle on “Pawn Shop Chronicles.”
The first follows “Fast & Furious” star Paul Walker as a white supremacist tweaker who gets into some crazy tiresome hijinks when he and a dimwitted buddy (Kevin Rankin) attempt to rob their meth dealer. At the start, this subplot seems to have some potential. Walker, greasy and tatted up is funnier and more intense than he’s ever been. And if the film just followed Walker and Rankin as they bumbled toward an armed robbery, it might have been a dumb but fun redneck exploitation yarn but as with every bright point in the film, it’s quickly eclipsed by a bunch momentum-killing nonsense.
Walker and Rankin literally pause their plotline to deconstruct their racist beliefs in conversation that shows that screenwriter Adam Minarovich has studied and can successfully replicate Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue rhythms but without all the intelligence and charm. But bland and mealy verbiage isn’t Minarovich only weakness, he also can’t plot worth a damn.
The film’s second story where a Bruce Campbell imitating Matt Dillon abandons his new bride to find the man who kidnapped his last wife after spotting her wedding ring at the titular pawn shop has all the nuance and wit of a hammer to the face. Dillon beats one guy to get to another guy and then beats that guy until he tells him what happened to his wife but the whole thing is so over the top and moves so quickly that it’s impossible to care Dillon or his quest. And when Dillon finally finds and rescues his sex slave wife, his story doesn’t conclude as much as it comes to an abrupt stop. There’s no catharsis or an even pulp reversal to cap off his sloppy revenge tale but there is a scene where a bloody Dillon finds a spiked mace in manner reminiscent to an infinitely better one where a viscera-covered Bruce Willis spotted a katana just to remind the viewer that homage is antithesis of creativity.
“Pawn Shop Chronicles’” concluding story is its best but only because all the forced quirkiness and haphazard storytelling are met by Brendan Fraser’s total commitment to his thin-sketched Elvis impersonator. Down on his luck but indefatigable, Fraser’s low-rent crooner can’t catch a break on his way to a county fair. His girl leaves him, a local barber destroys his sideburns and his potentially redemptive performance is beset by a technical meltdown. Fraser’s dopey optimism and detectable effort almost elevates the film to a Coen Brother level obliqueness but for all his hard work, “The Mummy” star can’t fix a project this fundamental broken.
What makes the film a disappointing misfire instead of out-and-out failure is the involvement of director Wayne Kramer. He’s such inventive visual stylist that the film never quite settles into tedium that Minarovich’s script is so fascinated with. Be it a perfectly framed shot of a liquor store front, a cheeky shift in aspect ratios or a total gratuitous crane swoop, Kramer and cinematographer Jim Whitaker make “Chronicles” looks like it cost four times its $5 million production budget. If the film were built on a much sturdier foundation, it could have been a new cult classic on par with Kramer’s gonzo crime caper “Running Scared.” Instead it’s a mess that goes out of its way to be a pointless waste of time.
Special features: Commentary with Kramer and Minarovich
“Pawn Shop Chronicles” can be purchased through Amazon.
Mario McKellop has written about film on Examiner for the last three years and can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.