Intertwining three separate southern fried tales, all revolving around a pawn shop, Hustlers is a very hit and miss experience as it sways wildly from black comedy to dark horror to outright lunacy. Thankfully with some skilled direction from the underrated Wayne Kramer (The Cooler, Running Scared) and several well know actors giving it their all (Paul Walker, Matt Dillon and Brendan Fraser all shine) and some stand out scenes that will linger long in the memory after the flick has finished, Hustlers manages to scrape by as an entertaining romp albeit one that is darkly, darkly twisted.
Vincent D’Onofrio (complete with authentic southern accent) and Chi McBride run the titular pawn shop and in between discussing the intricacies of life (well porn, mainly) they stop long enough to deal with three very diverse characters all wanting to pawn a different item: a shotgun, a ring and a medallion. Drug addled Walker and his buddy (Kevin Rankin) plan to rob their meth dealer and need their other buddy’s (Lukas Haas) shotgun to do this but he’s pawned it to get gas money so he can meet them at the rendezvous point. This doesn’t go over too well and all kinds of violent and loony shenanigans ensue. Newly married Dillon wants to pawn his new wife’s ring for honeymoon money but then discovers the ring of his previous wife in the pawn shop. She disappeared unexpectedly many years before and the discovery of her ring sends Dillon on a frantic search for her: though he may not like what he discovers when he does find her. The final segment sees Fraser’s wannabe Elvis impersonator selling his prized medallion for travelling money (so he can get to a state fair he is planning on performing at) which thus in turn leads him into a deal with the devil (!), the seemingly impossible mission of getting his hair cut (!) and, of course, crossing paths with the other characters and their various escapades.
While Hustlers (also known as the more aptly titled Pawn Shop Chronicles) doesn’t quite reach the dizzyingly dark heights of Kramer’s earlier modern classic Running Scared (if you haven’t seen it yet, put down that copy of Woody Allen’s latest and go see it now), it’s certainly a worthy effort. Your enjoyment of it will no doubt depend on your tolerance for dark black comedy, bad taste and lots of well known actors acting bat-shit crazy. Not all segments work perfectly either: the shotgun segment is perhaps the best (in part due to the late Walker’s awesome meth-head performance) as it blends dark humour, action and a relentless pace perfectly; the ring segment is almost as good but veers into incredibly dark territory and maybe would have been better as a standalone horror movie; while the medallion segment perhaps ends everything on a slightly anti-climactic note despite an incredible performance by Brendan Fraser as the ever deluded wannabe Elvis.
The comedy doesn’t always work but there are enough laugh-out-loud moments and absurd confrontations to keep the bizarre momentum bubbling along: not least a hilarious conversation between two redneck meth-heads on the pointlessness of racism. As mentioned, the cast are who really sell this wacky adventure with Walker, Dillon and Fraser all attacking their parts with gusto and there is some fine support from the likes of Vincent D’Onofrio, Pell James, brief cameos from Thomas Jane and Norman Reedus and another demented performance from Elijah Wood (who now seems intent on playing weirdo’s and psychos post Lord of the Rings!).
It perhaps tries a bit too hard to be in your face and there is some implication about purgatory, the devil and the pawn shop acting as a gateway to the two (make of that what you will!) but overall Hustlers is a bad taste ride worth taking if you’re in the mood and if you’re a fan of the director, the cast and Southern gothic madness.
Review by Andrew Skeates
Hustlers is out now on DVD and Blu Ray from Lionsgate Entertainment and comes with an audio commentary track from the director Wayne Kramer and writer Adam Minarovich.