Starring: Paul Walker, Matt Dillon, Brendan Fraser, Elijah Wood
Director: Wayne Kramer
Otherwise known as Pawn Shop Chronicles, Hustlers has a portmanteau structure that immediately invites comparison with the mighty Pulp Fiction and Sin City, but it manages to disarm criticism with monster servings of deep-fried Southern whimsy.
In the first of its three loosely related yarns, a trio of white trash crackheads plan to rob a meth lab run by Stanley (Norman Reedus of The Walking Dead, unrecognizable behind a fetish gas mask), but first they have to beg, borrow or steal a weapon. The late Paul Walker shows what a good sport he was by playing against type and taking the role, not of the leader of the trio, but of the hapless comic sidekick, a scrawny runt named Raw Dog, twitchy, scratchy, eyes permanently dilated. Meanwhile, Thomas Jane puts in a cameo as an angelic Marlboro Man who gives one of the gang salvation in the form of a chrome-plated pump-action shotgun.
The second segment is the most Rodriguez-like of the three and also the most action-packed. It sees Matt Dillon as a cheery honeymooner who comes across a clue to the disappearance of his first wife some six years before and goes on a bloody revenge spree, culminating in a Hellraiser-style gross-out moment involving some fish hooks and Elijah Wood’s face (Wood’s casting as a predatory creep is the closest the film gets to a direct nod to Sin City). By contrast, the third and final segment, featuring a pasty-faced Brendan Fraser as Ricky, a gormless slob of an Elvis impersonator who hits rock bottom and then decides to sell his soul to the devil, is the tallest and slightest of the tales.
There’s not a great deal linking the segments, except for a little dovetailing and the seedy pawn shop where each tale begins, but the movie keeps you engaged with a stream of fanboy-pleasing touches, such as the angry phone-rant Ricky receives from his exasperated mum, of which the only intelligible words are “peanut butter and banana sandwich”, or the bravura moment when his concert is gatecrashed by a bunch of naked zombie girls. Wayne Kramer directs with a Sam Raimi-ish brio and sense of colour, and the jokey script, with its leisurely skits about southern bigotry and ignorance, while not exactly subtle, at least offers the all-star cast plenty of scope to let their hair down and have some fun.
More comic booky than Pulp Fiction and less violent than Sin City, Hustlers isn’t very deep, but its broad, breezy, loose-limbed, devil-may-care, shoot first, ask questions later aesthetic should make it of interest to admirers of things Tarantinoesque, and all of the actors are on good form, especially the ever-reliable Vincent D’Onofrio (Law & Order: Criminal Intent) as the blearily laconic pawn shop owner who sees all sorts of coming and goings in a single day. A nice swan song for Walker, and well worth a spin while you’re waiting for the Sin City sequel due in cinemas this summer.