Blu-ray Review: Pawn

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Remember the good ol’ days when a low budget, direct-to-video crime thriller at least offered the promise of guilty pleasures? Who doesn’t enjoy occasionally reveling in cheesy squib effects and bad fight choreography coupled with wooden acting? These days it seems that even many DTV offerings boast big name actors and top notch production values. Pawn is an example of this trend. It isn’t “so bad it’s good” territory, it’s just an 88-minute display of boring competency. Everyone involved seems to be aiming for mediocrity.

In the Blu-ray’s lone special feature, a self-aggrandizing promotional featurette, one of the producers dares to favorably compare Pawn to another robbers-holding-hostages film, the classic 1975 Dog Day Afternoon. The only worthwhile comparison between the two is that Dog Day does everything right while Pawn stumbles at every turn. A trio of robbers led by Derrick (Michael Chiklis) holds up a diner, only to find the timer-locked safe won’t open until midnight. While they’re waiting it out with a restaurant full of patrons, a cop named Will (Forest Whitaker) wanders in and realizes something is wrong based on the manager’s behavior.

From that point on, Pawn jumps around in a non-linear structure that doesn’t seem to advance the narrative as well as it should. Perhaps the relative inexperience of first-time director David A. Armstrong and screenwriter Jay Anthony White contributed to the lack of momentum. Shoot-outs and aggressive arguments ensue, all dolled up in sub-Tarantino tough guy dialogue. Nick (Sean Faris) is a car thief who’s recently been released from jail. He’s in the wrong place at the wrong time when he stops to eat at the ill-fated diner. Then there’s Jeff (hip hop artist Common), the hostage negotiator who has to work through Nick to find out what Derrick and his team’s demands are. Ray Liotta turns up for good measure, as he does in so many of these bottom-rung thrillers. None of it adds up to anything exciting, unfortunately.

As I already mentioned, the Blu-ray presentation is quite good, with crystal clear digital cinematography and a robust Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix. DP Keith Dunkerley keeps things looking modern and moody. The transfer, framed at 2.40:1, displays a detailed image. I was impressed by the amount of ambiance and various sound effect jolts heard in the rear channels. Gunshots pack a fair amount of LFE resonance. It’s by no means better than the standard we’ve come to expect from high definition presentation, but it looks and sounds fine. A DVD version is included in the package as well.

Michael Chiklis delivers his usual intensity, but the other notables seem to be largely phoning it in. Pawn is ultimately as dull and nondescript as its title and, as a result, very hard to recommend.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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