The Pez Outlaw is a heist documentary much in the vein of McMillions. In fact, it even opens with a scene that conujures up McMillions with our lead criminal (Steve Glew) sending in cereal box tops to collect toys much in the way someone might submit Monopoly stamps. When the cereal manufacturers all change their rules to one entry per house, a change our hero is very proud to have forced, he must find a new way to game the system. (I couldn’t help but think of Laszlo in Real Genius, the man who lived in Gabe Jarrett’s closet). At a toy convention Steve discovers collectors going wild over Pez dispensers. Over the course of the next five years he puts his entire life savings into the black market of illegal importation of Eastern European Pez memorabilia.
Films like The Pez Outlaw succeed by humanizing the case. In McMillions we followed the unsuspecting winners as well as the federal operatives who broke the case. In Amy Bandlien Storkel and Bryan Storkel’s film we are called upon to essentially side with the criminal mastermind behind the smugglinbg in of contraband Pez. Meet the Glew family. We’ve got mom who loves her horses. We’ve got son Josh who is going to Business School. We’ve got daughter Moriah who tries to distance herself from the illegal enterprises. And we’ve got Steve, the little bit eccentric Dad, a self-proclaimed free thinker.
Steve’s tried normal jobs, working in a machinist shop, but was bored out of his mind. His wife could see his unhappiness and she finally said yes to one of his schemes. This is the backbone of Steve Glew story, people just kept saying yes to him. By all means, his plan of finding the factory in Kahlingrad and taking bags full of Pez dispensers only available on the far side of the Iron Curtain past customs into America and directly to collectors – where at $1.99 dispenser could go for as much as $250 seems ludicrous. It’s only because Pez failed in a bit of legal fine print that he was able to do it. Something the customs agent knew full well but decided to side with the little guy, if Pez didn’t bother to protect themselves why should he do their work for them.
There is a lot of small man versus the big machine in The Pez Outlaw but before the audience is drawn all the way to Steve’s side, we are also introduced to the director of marketing for Pez USA. This poor guy, who the task fell upon to catch the man bringing in the illegal Pez, enjoys telling his side of the story as much as Steve. Even though he is going against our hero, we still sort of like him because he finds the whole process somewhat amusing including the petty behavior of his boss, the so called Pezi-dent of the company who is infuriated with every new story he hears of Steve’s Pez-ploits. Unfortunately, the Pezi-dent never appears in the film, which is a shame because he is the true antagonist. He may have been too embarrassed or probably is just dead.
So many people that would seemingly be on the periphery of this story weigh in, making it clear that Steve’s story is one that the Pez community loves and embraces. There are several collectors that he sold to, there are factory runners in Eastern Europe, there’s even a shady Eastern European collector who claims to not know Steve at all but for some reason has strong opinions on the situation. Because his appearance in the film is never fully explained, his part of the story seems the most mysterious.
All in all it’s a fun ride through a bit of early 90s crime that never really hurt anyone. Until of course Steve gets caught, crushed by corporate America. He lost somewhere around $250,000 and almost lost his house. However, 30 years later Steve relishes telling his story and gets to play himself in the reenactments which had to be a blast. Although it doesn’t have as much mystery as something like McMillions millions where you’re trying to get to the bottom of the case, The Pez Outlaw shines by bringing us back to a moment of world history. The Berlin Wall had fallen and the east was opening up to the West for the first time and like good capitalists we were all just trying to make whatever bit of money off of it that we could. Steve even won a Special Jury Recognition for Acting in a Documentary.
– Bears Rebecca Fonté (@BearsFonte)
SXSW 2022; Amy Bandlien Storkel, Bryan Storkel; The Pez Outlaw documentary movie review