Matt Dillon and Elijah Wood in Wayne Kramer’s “Pawn Shop Chronicles.” | ANCHOR BAY FILMS
A Southern-fried turducken of a movie, “Pawn Shop Chronicles” is comprised of three overcooked, intersecting tales. Depending on one’s appetite for excess, this tasteless film will be either delicious or disgusting.
Director Wayne Kramer (who helmed the underappreciated 2006 gem “Running Scared”) assembles an impressive list of attractive actors — Paul Walker, Matt Dillon, and Brendan Fraser, among them — and has them go slumming. Many of the performers look terrible, but they tear into their parts with gusto, as if their roles really were chickens stuffed in ducks stuffed in turkeys.
The film opens in the title establishment run by Alton (Vincent D’Onofrio). When Vernon (Lukas Haas) walks in with a shotgun, Alton thinks he’s going to be robbed. However, Vernon, who ain’t too bright, wants to sell the gun. There is some haggling over price, and Kramer amplifies this scene exchange with some nifty camerawork. Vernon later explains to Raw Dog (Paul Walker) that he pawned the gun to buy gas so he can get to the rendezvous spot to commit a robbery for which he needs the gun. This is the logic we confront in “Pawn Shop Chronicles.”
Wayne Kramer goes over the top — but where?
Then something unexpected and rather unpleasant happens, one of the film’s several jolts. Whether adventurous moviegoers are shocked or laughing — or both — will determine this cult film’s success.
As the episode continues, it involves a candid conversation about hate between Raw Dog and his fellow white supremacist Randy (Kevin Rankin) that is darkly funny but also offensive. Randy is going after someone who owes him money, but that effort provides neither the most violent nor the nastiest sequence in the film.
Those honors are earned in the film’s second tale, one that goes so far over the edge viewers will marvel at its audacity — if they are not turned off completely. Here, Richard (Matt Dillon) is a happy groom who takes his new wife to Alton’s pawnshop to hock her wedding ring. While there, he discovers another ring — one he gave his ex-wife who has gone missing. He then jilts his new bride and sets off to find his long-lost love. What he encounters — and how he reacts to it — is, well, to put it mildly, unforgettable.
Richard confronts Johnny Shaw (Elijah Wood), who might just be innocent, in a scene that involves Johnny stretched out on his living room table with four fishing hooks used to hold his mouth open. What Richard does to get Johnny to talk involves a household tool and creates an indelibly disturbing screen moment. It is to Kramer’s dubious credit that he does not hold back on showing the torture.
“Pawn Shop Chronicles” doesn’t stop there, and this part of the film simply goes too far. Despite some interesting twists, the tale telegraphs its “surprise” ending, making an unpleasant sequence unsatisfying as well. And this is a shame because Dillon throws himself into his role with considerable aplomb. Offering a very accomplished performance here, he goes from being an obsequious bridegroom to a man hell bent for revenge to someone who ultimately gets his just — or unjust — desserts. Dillon is amazing to watch, which is what keeps his story from being unwatchable.
The third sequence is more weird than violent, which is both a relief and a disappointment given the level of frenzy the film achieves up until then. Ricky (Brendan Fraser) is an Elvis impersonator, who enters a strange town and makes a deal with a devil of sorts. This episode is the least compelling of the three in part because Fraser’s Elvis is pretty lame — perhaps deliberately so. The vignette is not much fun, and Ricky’s rendition of “Amazing Grace” is interminable. It is as if Kramer was tuckered out after the first two episodes and just gave up here.
“Pawn Shop Chronicles” does provide some pleasure in having Paul Walker play a tattooed redneck and offering a fabulous cameo by Thomas Jane, as a character called “The Man” who provides some much-needed assistance to Vernon. And Elijah Wood’s brave turn is nothing if not memorable.
It may take a cast-iron stomach to digest all of “Pawn Shop Chronicles,” but viewers with tastes so inclined may find plenty to chew on here.
PAWN SHOP CHRONICLES | Directed by Wayne Kramer | Anchor Bay Films | Opens Jul. 12 | AMC Empire 25, 234 W. 42nd St. | amctheatres.com