Last year Mel Gibson made headlines for the direct-to-VOD Get the Gringo, a fun picture about an American surviving inside a ruthless Mexican prison.
Netflix’s upcoming Arrested Development season and House of Cards prove that such strategies can and will work in the future for low-budget or especially unique content.
But for every success there are dozens of failures. The new to home video Pawn is among them–a thriller too confusing to really thrill.
The setup: At an all-night diner a cop walks in on a robbery in progress. But that’s not the whole story–not by half. Almost everyone–the robbers, the cops, the diner employees and customers being robbed–has a hidden agenda. So who are the players and who are the pawns?
Nick (Sean Faris), a bystander-turned-hostage, must figure that out. If he can, it might save his life. Or at least that’s the idea. The concept gets lost amidst the story’s attempt to be clever.
First-time director David Armstrong and writer Jay White shoot for Quentin Tarantino originality with a cut-up story like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. As scenes are replayed and reshuffled–viewed from new perspectives–they take on new meaning. But in Pawn the piece meal approach gets confusing and fails to truly resolve at the end.
Certain shadowy figures remain undefined even after the credits roll. The cast doesn’t help. Faris is a shallow lead. His character has just been released from prison and has a cute wife who is visibly pregnant. Despite plenty to work with, including his life hanging in the balance, Faris gives a B-level performance, though his distractingly obvious make-up job doesn’t help.
Michael Chiklis and Max Beesley are stereotypical Irish goons, and Marton Csokas is the stereotypical crooked cop. Rapper-actor Common alone strikes the right tone as the honest police negotiator.
The story suffers too, from attempts at Tarantino-style dialogue. Ray Liotta’s character delivers a strange monologue about clocks spliced together with action meant to compare Feras’s character to old jewelers, or something. Anyway it’s supposed to be a big moment, but it comes across like White enjoyed the story a lot so he built a movie around it, or forced it into a screenplay.
Riddled with problems, Pawn ultimately goes down as a B-quality thriller notable for overly gory gunshot wounds, unnecessary Irish accents and a decent Common performance. Despite the script’s non-linear timeline it’s still largely predictable, and the storytelling devices employed to mix things up are more confusing than clever. Pawn leaves too many plot points open to interpretation, and too many questions unanswered–namely: How did they rope so many recognizable actors into such an average movie?
The home video’s special features amount to a making-of sequence with interviews by an overly excited cast.