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Movie review: 'Pawn's' cops and robbers game is a mild thrill

David A. Armstrong's drama about a robbery of a diner is filled with familiar faces (Michael Chiklis, Ray Liotta, Forest Whitaker), corrupt cops and wise guys, but may not keep the audience interested in its outcome.

April 18, 2013|By Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times Film Critic
  • Michael Chiklis, right, and Forest Whitaker star in "Pawn."
Michael Chiklis, right, and Forest Whitaker star in "Pawn." (Anchor Bay Films )

One of the most intriguing things about the new crime drama "Pawn" is Michael Chiklis' British accent. It's not that it's particularly bad or good, but every time he speaks — which is a lot — it does make you wonder why?

The movie is a bit like that accent and joins the pantheon of mildly entertaining thrillers having a go at the domino logic we've seen so often in these movies, starting with that classic flaw in the criminal mind that makes two-bit thugs think they can outsmart compromised cops. Next come the dirty cops who believe they can undercut the wise guys who have them in a vise. And of course, even the wisest of wise guys think they won't get caught.

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The variations in the telling are infinite, but regardless of how it's framed, those dominoes are destined to fall. And so they do in "Pawn."

The thrill is in whether any of the bad guys will defy the odds and get away with it this time. If you've seen even a few of these, you already know the answer. I guess in that regard, "Pawn" doesn't disappoint.

Director David A. Armstrong had pulled in nearly every old hand that's ever held a gun in a movie to help him. So Ray Liotta, of course, is there. He's not a good guy, but it's nearly impossible to figure out whose bad side he is on, as always.

But first screenwriter Jay Anthony White drops us into the middle of a robbery. The place is a nondescript diner in some economically deprived urban area that goes unnamed. Let's just say it's not on the British Isles. Then the rewind/replay begins as one by one we get to know the major players and why they are at the diner in such desperate straits.

Chiklis, best known as a detective of questionable morals on "The Shield," is Derrick, the No. 1 thug running this shakedown. He's got two goons so thick it's doubtful they'll have long life spans. Suited up as a cop stopping by for coffee is Forest Whitaker, whose two seasons guest starring on "The Shield" with Chiklis are probably the reason he's there rather than his Oscar for "The Last King of Scotland."

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Working the counter is Charlie (Stephen Lang). The elegant gentleman nursing his coffee nearby is Yuri (Ronald Guttman), the cravat a clue to his relative standing here. There are random diners called upon to looked scared and Bonnie (Jessica Szohr) is the blubbering waitress you wish Derrick would shoot. Nick (Sean Faris) is the important one. A recent parolee, he is about to become the hero.

Although Faris does not have an accent of any sort, his portrayal of a guy trying to stay on the straight and narrow is actually the most interesting thing in "Pawn." The actor has a way of suggesting there is more to his character than meets the eye, though the movies he's in don't tend to let you see it.

"Pawn" at least tries. You can tell Nick was going to do the right thing anyway, but then Liotta — or as he's know here, man-in-suit — snatched Nick's pregnant wife, Amanda (Nikki Reed). There's also the matter of Nick's brother being an Internal Affairs guy and somehow involved in what's going down, the media firestorm out front, the SWAT team itching to shoot, the airplane the thugs have demanded.

That's a lot to keep up with, but there are a thousand more details to consider — like why this dump even matters beyond the fact that it is apparently famous for its pies.

Many of these particulars — i.e., the tasty pies — are clearly designed to keep the audience guessing, but never quite clever enough to make it worth our while. "Pawn's" cops and robbers game could have been far better played.

betsy.sharkey@latimes.com

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'Pawn'

MPAA rating: R for violence, language and brief drug content

Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes

Playing: At Laemmle's NoHo 7, North Hollywood

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