Arizona (2018)

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/28/18 21:58:28

"Good location, but these developments all look the same."
3 stars (Just Average)

SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Arizona" starts out in a smart, timely spot, taking advantage of the vast number of hollowed-out, prefabricated, unfinished developments in the Southwest to create both a memorable sense of desperation and an isolated setting, but somewhere along the way the black comedy of people unwilling to take responsibility for increasingly horrible actions and a twisted American dream becomes a standard direct-to-video thriller. Eventually, a guy chasing a woman and his daughter with a gun is just that, no matter how clever it started out.

But, back up, and meet Cassie (Rosemarie DeWitt), who is trying to sell those places despite their many shortcomings because she's six months behind on the mortgage for her own, sold to her by her boss Gary Bartha, and it's not easy to be confident about it when you might run across someone who has given in to despair during a showing. Sonny (Danny McBride), on the other hand, is less the type for despair than rage, and when his argument with Gary ends in disaster, his panic leads to him kidnapping Cassie, not taking into account that her daughter Morgan (Lolli Sorenson) will soon be home from school, or that his ex-wife might drop by, or…

The film initially presents itself as a black comedy, and a good one, something the mortgage crisis seems to bring out in people. It's the sort of thing that lets them put righteous indignation and self-destructive foolishness in the same person, and in Danny McBride, they find something close to an ideal vessel. He's got a warm, jovial presence that can shift to unhinged at the drop of a hat, and he can milk perfectly-executed moments of dumb, entitled white male privilege just enough to make sure that the audience gets the point without seeming to hit them over the head with it, even after the film has shifted to be more a chase than a comedy. Rosemarie DeWitt plays her part as a well-intentioned mirror, especially toward the beginning, more completely sympathetic but still desperate enough for the audience to believe she might completely throw in with Sonny, though she handles her earlier shift from comic to thriller well.

There's also a fun supporting cast, including some memorable surprises. Folks like David Alan Grier, Kaitlin Olson, Elizabeth Gillies, and Luke Wilson pop in to give their scenes a frantic comic push, letting writer Luke Del Tredici and director Jonathan Watson draw the movie out a bit and send it into different directions, because entertaining as McBride makes Sonny, he's not exactly bright, and an hour of nothing but him and Cassie trying to outmaneuver each other isn't going to be that exciting. They're entertaining and weird enough in their own way that it would be nice if more of them wound up like Wilson and Gillies, having trouble trying to find one development with a Mexican-sounding name (and thus keeping rescue further away) than being introduced to the main plot and then quickly spat out.

Having the shape of a thriller serves as a bit of a weight around the film's neck after a while; no matter what the circumstances are that got them there; Sonny is eventually just a guy with a gun chasing a woman and her daughter, and after a certain point the smart details and satiric asides don't much matter: Bad deeds are piling up, injuries are slowing people down, and the audience starts keeping an eye out for the stuff from the first act that would prove really useful in terms of turning the tables. A lot of the film's nastier turns don't land quite as well as they could at this point; they get a little bit of a gasp of shock or not believing they went for that joke, but not really putting that feeling to work for more than half a second or so. It's cranking through the standard thriller bits in more or less the way you'd expect.

The movie doesn't fail, but it's also never nearly the film it seems like it could have been after it gets started. It's telling that this film got a day-and-date streaming release despite a fairly impressive cast - a little more pointed, and maybe this hits some more theaters with a reputation for being smarter than it looks; instead, it's good enough to watch, but not enough to leap off a menu.

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