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New Release Review - Hustlers (aka Pawn Shop Chronicles) (DVD)

Portmanteau film revolving around a pawn shop's desperate customers.

Directed by: Wayne Kramer
Starring: Paul Walker, Brendan Fraser, Elijah Wood, Vincent D’Onofrio, Thomas Jane, Lucas Haas, Matt Dillon


The Movie:
Hustlers comes to DVD feeling almost like a period piece, a portmanteau film revolving around a pawn shop and the desperate customers who use it. The shadow of Tarantino’s Palme D’or winner hangs heavy over Wayne Kramers ersatz comedy-crime caper.
Kramer, previously responsible for the overrated The Cooler and the vastly undervalued Running Scared, takes a backward step here. Originally called Pawn Shop Chronicles in the States (which as a title lacks a certain sizzle), here we get the bland meaningless title Hustlers. 'Fuckwits', a more accurate description of the characters, may have been a tougher sell.
Appropriate then, for a collection of tales set around used goods, that so much of this feels second hand, from the use of once familiar, but now slightly shopworn names such as Brendan Fraser and Matt Dillon, to the pop culture heavy dialogue (although in this instance talk about a Black Father Christmas and why Black dicks in porn makes one character queasy, does show that for all of his faults, Tarantino’s facility with dialogue is not so easy to appropriate as it sounds).
Split into three stories, this starts lively enough with The Shotgun, which has one of Paul Walker’s final performances before his untimely death in 2013, clearly enjoying himself as a red neck Nazi who pawns his shotgun for gas money, which may put a crimp in his ability to rob be-masked meth dealer Stanley (Norman Reedus). It is one of the best performances in the movie, even if it does channel Chris Pine’s similar Nazi assassin in the execrable Smokin’ Aces. Like an ultra-violent, fascist Dukes of Hazzard episode, this at least moves at a clip, even if it offers familiar pleasures.
Unfortunately, the wheels come off this particularly late arriving bandwagon jumper with The Ring, which has Matt Dillon finding the titular engagement trinket of his missing, presumed dead wife. It’s not the level of brutality that disturbs in this segment, more the off hand vaguely comical approach to imprisonment and rape. To this reviewer's mind it aims to shock but has a rank misogyny and childishness that destroys whatever good will the film had. In keeping with the shopworn deja vu tone it stunt casts Manga eyed Chipmunk Elijah Wood as a character that would be daring if he hadn’t gone down this route at least twice before.
If the second segment is hateful, the third is just dull. The Medallion features a down at luck Elvis impersonator (Fraser) who pawns his prize medallion to make it to a performance at the county show. The world needs another Elvis on film like it needs another sequel to Big Momma’s House, and in this Fraser’s commitment to the King seems to have ended at an all cheeseburger diet, looking more like Steptoe & Son era Harry H Corbett than Presley. This segment is all over the place, aiming for Coen inspired schtick around competing barbers and a deal with the Devil that makes explicit some of the motifs that were backgrounded in the previous sections. It ends on a blackly sour note, which is meant to spark a debate that the film hasn’t earned. Is all as it seems? Are they really in purgatory? Is it some failed attempt to enter the Twilight Zone? Faux profundity hiding a childish chauvinistic centre does not classic cinema make. 
Less pawn shop, more bargain bin.
4/10
Extras:
Nothing apart from a directors and writers commentary. Both attempt to analyse the structure and the themes of the movie; they try hard to convince but it doesn’t add much in the way of layers to the movie. Worth a listen if the film intrigues.
5/10


Jason Abbey

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