Not a whole lot of U.S. moviegoers seemed to know about “Pawn Shop Chronicles” when it opened there last year. It had a limited release, then fizzled into the ether. Which is probably the best thing for the planet and its inhabitants, but to be fair, it has its moments. Best described as the movie equivalent of a long, tall Kool-Aid smoothie made by my brother when he was 8, it’s toxic junk crammed with ingredients that are maybe not as bad as the stuff found in certain frozen foods on our very own shores. But it comes close. Very close.
Directed by Wayne Kramer (“Running Scared”), the film’s main redemptive point is that everyone — from the cast to the dolly grip — surely had a roaring good time going to work. The limited-release thing worked in their favor: Freed from the restrictions of a big budget and studio to appease, Kramer and chums let rip with ludicrous plot lines, splashy brutality, extended torture scenes and shameless tributes to Quentin Tarantino films, specifically “Pulp Fiction.” Oh, and there’s a whole lot of foul language and white-supremacist racism strewn about. An example of what happens when you get a room full of beer-glugging, gun-slinging, meth-addicted male characters with no overbearing love story to keep them in line.
“Pawn Shop Chronicles” is an omnibus affair that starts off at General Lee’s Pawn Shop, owned and operated by Alton (Vincent D’Onofrio) and his underling Johnson (Chi McBride). A procession of desperate souls parade in and out, hoping to find cash and failing miserably. In “The Shotgun,” meth-heads Randy (Kevin Rankin) and Raw Dog (Paul Walker, who was killed in a driving accident in November) hatch a plan to screw over their pal Vernon (Lukas Haas) and make off with a sizable chunk of money, but then Randy pawns his shotgun for gas money, making their scheme kind of hard to pull off.
In “The Ring,” newly married Richard (Matt Dillon) steps into the pawnshop and discovers some jewelry that had belonged to his missing ex-wife. Promptly abandoning his bride (Rachelle Lefevre), Richard goes on a manhunt to find his ex, and the guy responsible for her disappearance. He ends up at the house of Johnny (Elijah Wood), equally dangerous as Richard but in a nastier way.
The least offensive segment is “The Medallion,” starring Brendan Fraser as an Elvis impersonator who’s going through a really bad day. His girlfriend walks out on him, he’s accosted by street preacher Virgil (Sam Hennings) and the county fair that hired him for a gig turns out to be a special kind of nightmare.
Who are these guys, you may ask in desperate exasperation. And who goes to pawnshops nowadays anyway? Many of their problems could be solved with a single click on Amazon, but Kramer refuses to induct any aspect of modern civilization to the story (and he doesn’t clarify the exact year it’s set). With little or no context, the characters are suspended in a kind of idiot universe where senseless violence drowns out the wisecracks and punch lines crucial in keeping this sort of movie afloat.