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On DVD/Blu-ray: THE BLING RING (2013); JAVA HEAT (2013); and PAWN SHOP CHRONICLES (2013)

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THE BLING RING
(US/France/Japan/Germany - 2013)

Sofia Coppola's latest film is an account of the rash of 2008-2009 burglaries of celebrity homes in the Hollywood Hills committed by a group of privileged teenagers dubbed the "Bling Ring."  It had the unfortunate timing to be released right after Harmony Korine's more flashy and impressive SPRING BREAKERS, and despite some stinging observations of its protagonists' coddled lifestyles, it doesn't really have much to say.  It starts out fine, as troubled rich kid Marc (Israel Broussard) arrives at a new school and immediately befriends Rebecca (Katie Chang).  Historically a misfit, Marc is welcomed into Rebecca's clique--also consisting of sisters Nicki (Emma Watson) and Sam (Taissa Farmiga), and their friend Chloe (Claire Julien)--and petty crimes committed out of boredom soon lead to burglarizing celebrity mansions after they read that Paris Hilton will be out of town.  They go to Hilton's home and find the keys under the mat.  Hilton is out of town so much that they go back several times, and also hit the homes of Lindsay Lohan, THE HILLS star Audrina Patridge, and Orlando Bloom, and bring along Nicki and Sam's younger sister Emily (Georgia Rock) to Megan Fox's house because she's small enough to fit through a doggy door and let everyone else in.  Like any group of young and inexperienced criminals, they get too cocky and stupid for their own good, not just in their repeat visits to Hilton's house, but posting pics of themselves with the stolen merchandise on their Facebook pages.  And of course, Rebecca, the de facto ringleader, tries to throw everyone under the bus when the shit hits the fan.


The story behind THE BLING RING is a interesting one, so it's hard to tell why the film ends up such an inert trifle, especially in the capable hands of Coppola (THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, LOST IN TRANSLATION).  Maybe it's that in her attempts to convey the shallow and vacuous lives of the "Bling Ring," Coppola inadvertently creates a shallow and vacuous film.  Once the premise and the players are established, the film becomes one montage after another of the titular group hanging out, doing drugs, clubbing, and taking selfies.  There are some high points:  Watson is very good and Leslie Mann gets some laughs as Nicki's, Sam's, and Emily's new agey, home-schooling mother whose educational curriculum is based on Rhonda Byrne's bestselling book The Secret.   There's probably a solid crime film to be made of this story, but it just plays like a less horrific, rich-kid, L.A. ennui version of Larry Clark's BULLY.  (R, 90 mins)


JAVA HEAT
(US - 2013)

JAVA HEAT is a throwback actioner from the L.A.-based Margate House Films, a company owned by former political commentator Rob Allyn (producer, co-writer) and his son Conor (co-writer, director).  Though an American company, they work primarily in Indonesia, and JAVA HEAT does a nice job of capturing the look and feel of Java and Conor Allyn admirably goes for real explosions and stunt work instead of the usual CGI that we get in every other product from the Hollywood assembly line.  While the Allyns' sense of filmmaking aesthetics are admirable, their script is pretty weak and not helped at all by a bland leading man in TWILIGHT co-star Kellan Lutz.  Lutz is Jake Wilde, an AWOL Marine posing as a grad student in Indonesian art history, in Java on a personal mission to eliminate a terror cell run by a Frenchman named Malik, played by what once might've been Mickey Rourke.  Jake forms an uneasy, bickering, culture-clashing alliance with local cop and devout Muslim Hashim (Indonesian superstar Ario Bayu) to bring down Malik...if they don't kill each other first!




It's obvious that the younger Allyn is a disciple of big-budget '80s and early '90s actioners and he does an admirable job of emulating the look of those films, even in the unique (to American audiences, at least) setting.  But other than some nice, real explosions and a few decent action sequences, JAVA HEAT is pretty boring.  Some of that falls on Lutz, who's just not an interesting actor, but the story is pretty hollow and formulaic to the point of catatonia.  It's overlong and badly-paced, and doesn't make good use of cosmetic-surgery-gone-horribly-awry cautionary tale Rourke, who lumbers around like the Frankenstein monster, utilizing a horrid French accent that's so thick and garbled that he's often subtitled even when speaking English. It might've worked if he'd cut loose and played it crazy, but since Rourke is obviously bored, he creates a boring character (though there is one cool shot of him walking away from an explosion in slo-mo). Wasn't THE WRESTLER supposed to rescue him from this kind of junk?  Or has he finally burned every remaining bridge in his quest to squander all of the goodwill that brilliant performance earned?  If you want to see Rourke play the bad guy in dumb action movie, just watch DOUBLE TEAM again. Allyn shows bits of style here and there, and with a script from someone other than him and/or his dad, he might have a future as a reliable, go-to DTV action director of the Isaac Florentine variety.  But for now, JAVA HEAT doesn't really get the job done.  (R, 104 mins)


PAWN SHOP CHRONICLES
(US - 2013)

Anchor Bay barely released this incredibly awful, absurdly tardy PULP FICTION ripoff that plays like it should've gone straight-to-video in 1996.  Co-produced by Limp Bizkit mainman Fred Durst, who was originally set to direct before the job went to the once-promising Wayne Kramer (THE COOLER, RUNNING SCARED), PAWN SHOP CHRONICLES tells a trio of stories centered on a rundown pawn shop in the hillbilly south run by Vincent D'Onofrio and Chi McBride.  First off, a crew of brainless meth heads--including Paul Walker and Lukas Haas--can't get their shit together to follow through with their half-assed plan of robbing the area's top meth cooker (Norman Reedus, his face hidden behind a respirator mask).  The next has Matt Dillon ditching his new bride (Rachelle Lefevre) when he discovers his missing first wife's ring at the pawn shop, sending him on a quest for revenge and the truth behind her disappearance.  The final story involves the redemption of a hopelessly down-on-his-luck Elvis impersonator (Brendan Fraser) who can't even scrape together some pocket change for a coffee at a greasy spoon.  Written by Adam Minarovich, PAWN SHOP CHRONICLES stumbles at every turn as Kramer tries to replicate the balls-out insanity and comic book mindset of RUNNING SCARED but fails miserably, and the film is so slavishly devoted to its Tarantino stylings that you quickly go from feeling sorry for it to being actively pissed off at its sheer laziness, wallowing in sleaze and would-be "shock" bits as it drags on to an exhausting 112 minutes.  Wasting an interesting supporting cast that had some cult-movie potential (there's also Thomas Jane, Pell James, Ashlee Simpson, and a vigorously masturbating Elijah Wood), while getting career-worst performances from most of the past-their-prime leads (Fraser and Dillon are terrible), the appalling, unwatchable PAWN SHOP CHRONICLES has absolutely nothing redeeming about it and offers zero entertainment value.  There's just nothing else to say:  this is a complete pile of dog shit.  (R, 112 mins)


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