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Raising Arizona
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by Rob Gonsalves

"One of the funniest movies ever. Do not attempt to argue with me."
5 stars

Never ones to rest on their laurels, Joel and Ethan Coen followed their exercise in stylistic deadpan "Blood Simple" with one of the looniest comedies on God's green earth.

For Serious Coens (okay, sometimes only semi-serious), I take down my DVD of Miller's Crossing; for Wacky Coens, I throw on either The Big Lebowski or Raising Arizona. I can never decide which of the two is funnier; it depends largely on which one I've seen most recently, and, cheesy as it is to imagine it, I'd love to see a team-up between Jeff Bridges' Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski and Nicolas Cage's H.I. "Hi" McDonnough -- I challenge any Coens fan not to indulge that imaginary movie premise for a moment.

Raising Arizona is amiably gonzo pretty much nonstop. In the wrong hands, that could be irritating or, at the very least, miss the mark (I refer you to the little-seen Crimewave, written by the Coens with their friend Sam Raimi, and directed by Raimi, for an example of a screwball farce that's fun enough but strains too hard for true inspiration). But the Coens' first smart move is to have the story told by Hi in a sober, hilariously fancy narration ("Her insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase"); their second smart move is to make everyone onscreen as colorful as M. Emmet Walsh's Loren Visser in Blood Simple.

Hi, a repeat offender (he holds up convenience stores with an unloaded shotgun), is seen at the beginning going through the legal system three times, gradually falling in love with Edwina (Ed for short), the police officer who takes his mug shot. Holly Hunter does her tiny-determined-tough-woman bit as Ed, but she's seldom done it better; when it turns out, after Hi and Ed have married, that she can't get pregnant, Ed decides to steal one of the famous "Arizona Quints" fathered by local furniture-outlet owner Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson). Hi, of course, will be the one doing the stealing, and when he initially backs down, Hunter's knife-edge tone of voice tells you (and Hi) that they're not leaving until Ed gets what she came for.

At home with the stolen quintuplet, Hi and Ed try to work up the semblance of a normal family, but their bubble is soon popped by two visitors: the brothers Gale (John Goodman) and Evelle (William Forsythe), Hi's buddies from prison, who have escaped. The brothers are seen briefly in the pre-credits sequence, but their true introduction is the rising-from-the-muck scene, a parody of prison-escape numbers later redone (earnestly) in The Shawshank Redemption. Gale and Evelle represent the criminal lifestyle Hi wants to leave behind but half wants to fall back into; Ed knows this and disdains the brothers on sight. In his dreams, Hi is also pursued by what appears to be a creature of his conscience -- a burly biker (Randall "Tex" Cobb), frequently seen riding out of a flaming background, who turns out to be a shady character hired by Nathan to track down his baby.

This was the second of three movies that future director Barry Sonnenfeld would shoot for the Coens, and it's by far the most Raimi-esque. The camera rockets around gleefully but also knows when to sit still for a comic-effect static shot of, say, an expressionless Hi sitting next to a bawling Ed at the doctor's office (her sadness isn't funny, but the composition is). The Coens, taking their cue from the camera moves, encourage almost everyone to play very broadly. Frances McDormand shows more personality in five minutes as Ed's know-it-all friend Dot than she did in the entirety of Blood Simple; John Goodman, in his first of several Coen outings, spends a lot of time bellowing but also knows what to do with lines like (in explanation of why he and Evelle escaped) "We felt the institution no longer had anything to offer us." And the late, great Trey Wilson steals every frame he's in -- Nathan's impatient tirade against the FBI ("They were jammies! They had Yodas an' shit on 'em!") is a classic.

The one performer who plays it more or less straight is, ironically, Nicolas Cage. Given an absurd character with a goofy hairdo and sad mustache, and deposited in the middle of a henhouse of loons, Cage really has no choice but to play against the movie's crackpot reality. Cage has the gift of being soulful and sincere no matter how crappy the movie is, and here he's like a rebuke to the critics who took the makers of Blood Simple to task for being heartless. Hi is a romantic (if dopey) figure, and the movie laughs at everything else but him; the Coens respect his dreams of a settled life, though, of course, they can't help throwing loud roadblocks in his way.

"Raising Arizona" is probably the gentlest movie the Coens have in them, and at least half its gentleness comes from Nicolas Cage's sleepy drawl, as when he introduces his stolen child to the TV: "Two hours a day maximum, either educational or football so's you don't ruin your appreciation of the finer things."

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=1055&reviewer=416
originally posted: 12/26/06 21:00:18
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User Comments

9/03/12 Courtney The Coen brothers one true comedy. Hilarious. 4 stars
11/18/11 Golden J. Williams Jr. Laughing all through this movie; did wonders for me. Cage and Hunter-what a team. 5 stars
7/02/09 brian Okay then. 5 stars
9/17/08 Stu Very funny (and sometimes poignant). The Coens rock. 4 stars
10/23/06 R.W.Welch Inspired lunacy. 5 stars
8/22/06 Sepi53 nice suprisingly good film 4 stars
2/18/06 VC so weird so funny 5 stars
2/04/06 Kankasaur clever and kooky Coens' classic 5 stars
8/19/05 Indrid Cold A little out of control in places and not wall-to-wall hilarious, but still very memorable. 4 stars
7/12/05 Jake This is a wacky film with a bizarre, ironic and hilarious sense of humor! 5 stars
1/27/05 Charlie Hilarious? Extremely Entertaining! 5 stars
10/01/04 Daveman Despite the maudlin final reel, it's simply bursting with ideas, wit and imagination. 5 stars
7/26/04 MyGreenBed One of the great comedies in movie history (with After Hours and Take The Money And Run). 5 stars
6/14/04 T. Maj Whimsical classic--the Coens' best film 5 stars
6/10/04 Kevin Farkas It doesn't get any funnier or more fun than this! 5 stars
6/10/04 jason nimtz 1 stars
3/12/04 James Kustes One of the Coens' best 5 stars
2/09/04 HorrorScribbler Would you buy furniture from a store called Unpainted Huffheinz? 5 stars
11/21/03 adguy If you don't like this movie, you must have a panty on your head. 4 stars
6/22/03 cochese Another "classic" I cant love. Is it just me? 2 stars
6/19/03 John Aster Habig classy stab at white trash cliches but not as great as O Brother 5 stars
5/16/03 George Jung People who hate this movie can suck diseased monkey cock...or a cock of some kind...I guess 5 stars
11/08/02 Stevo 'When there was no crawdad, we ate sand.' 'You ate whut?!'?!' 5 stars
9/30/02 hoboe joe i agree with Erik 1 stars
9/29/02 Charles Tatum Your'e a flower you are 4 stars
9/10/02 Francofile This one sticks in your craw, and tickles, for a good long time. Nic Cage's finest hour. 5 stars
9/07/02 Jim The Coen brothers' funniest movie 5 stars
9/07/02 Kyle A damn good surprise. 5 stars
7/10/02 Film Dude No Andrew, this was NOT A BAD MOVIE. FUCK, I hate you... 5 stars
3/05/02 Veronica Foxx aka The Raven-Haired Temptress Quirky little film that makes for an entertaining and delightful viewing. 4 stars
2/01/02 the scarecrow Do you hate every movie you see, Andrew Carden? 5 stars
11/17/01 Andrew Carden It's Very Rare When A Movie Like This Comes Out. It's That Bad. 1 stars
10/22/01 Soggy Bottom Boy One of the best comedies of the 80s, this one will live on as a classic! 5 stars
9/05/01 Butterbean A brilliant comedy 5 stars
8/08/01 moviegoer What else to say but, I LOVE THIS MOVIE! 5 stars
8/06/01 E-Funk This was my first Coen bros. experiences...it's hard to top. 5 stars
6/14/01 Law Firm of Dewey, Cheatam & Howe Coens are genuises. Period. 5 stars
3/17/01 hum if, like me, you adore the coens work, its awesome. for others... 4 stars
2/11/01 john d(THE DUDE) my second all time favorite movie 5 stars
1/14/01 John Nelson One of the funniest movies, ever!!! 5 stars
1/12/01 zippernek Son, there's a panty on your head 5 stars
12/03/00 Cristopher Revilla quirky but awesome action/comedy flick 5 stars
10/26/00 Liz S Funny, but not a movie i would choose to watch on my own time 4 stars
10/21/00 Hartman Nic Cage's best role ever. Holly Hunter's one of the best actresses around. Perfect movie 5 stars
10/11/00 Phil hilarious chase, hilarious movie 5 stars
10/02/00 Zeitgeist "Would you buy furniture from a store called 'Unpainted Hufheinz'?" 5 stars
8/10/00 Elvisfan Turn to the right 5 stars
10/19/99 The Bomb 69 classic, the late,great Tex Cobb was icing on the cake 5 stars
9/24/99 alyssa Great movie - love the music. 4 stars
9/15/99 Ratso The best comedy ever made. John Goodman is unstoppable. 5 stars
9/08/99 Haden maybe my favorite movie ever. If you don't like it-you suck 5 stars
9/03/99 Elizaveta Yodas and Shit! 5 stars
7/25/99 Josh Radde Magificent movie 5 stars
7/21/99 PhilmPhreak Son, you got a pantie on your head. 5 stars
6/27/99 Jim Armstrong Only incredibly anal and unimaginative people could dislike this movie. 5 stars
1/19/99 C Dub Exceptional comedy, great performances and of course, the phenomenal fight scenes! 5 stars
11/19/98 Emma brilliant 5 stars
10/29/98 Silent Rob A quirky comic extravaganza. You'll either get it, or you like Friends... 5 stars
10/19/98 Kwyjibo Classic Coens movie. Better than Fargo in my opinion. 5 stars
9/30/98 Nate Dogg EXCELLENT FLICK!!! I live near that motorcycle guy with the grenades too... 5 stars
9/28/98 {{{OZ}}} Great fucking film. It all went down for Cage after this. What a shame. 5 stars
9/28/98 Johny A true landmark comedy 5 stars
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  02-Feb-1987 (PG)



Directed by
  Joel Coen

Written by
  Ethan Coen
  Joel Coen

  Nicolas Cage
  Holly Hunter
  Trey Wilson
  John Goodman
  William Forsythe
  Sam McMurray

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