REVIEW: Arizona [2018]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½


Rating: NR | Runtime: 85 minutes | Release Date: August 24th, 2018 (USA)
Studio: RLJ Entertainment
Director(s): Jonathan Watson
Writer(s): Luke Del Tredici

“Nothing but possibility”

You should know going in that Jonathan Watson‘s Arizona is a comedy. It’s billed that way. Former “30 Rock” and current “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” writer Luke Del Tredici is responsible for the script. And Danny McBride has had his face plastered on all the marketing materials. But you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking otherwise at the very start considering the lead role is played by Rosemarie DeWitt. She’s a real estate agent named Cassie who’s shown spinning her sales speak with a couple just as the housing bubble burst. There’s a suicide, bill collectors, and a desert wasteland of overpriced mausoleums better served as graffiti canvases than places to rest your head. We’re watching life kick Cassie while she’s down, hoping she’ll find a way to get back up.

The discovery of an angry Seth Rogen as her boss is what allows the humor to begin creeping in once the two bicker with intense vitriol considering both can no longer remain delusional about the fact that no amount of spin will ever sell one of their properties now. Enter McBride’s Sonny: one of the idiots who took their pitch hook, line, and sinker before watching his life unravel. A tussle commences between he and Rogen’s Gary and eventually the latter takes a header over the balcony onto the concrete below. Rather than call the police about this accidental intensification of tempers, however, Sonny panics. He acknowledges Cassie is the only witness to his crime and decides to figure a way out by tying her up with duct tape.

Now the darkly comic antics really commence towards what you’d expect from the work of McBride’s regular collaborator Jody Hill. Whereas his films are pitch black to the point of banality, though, Watson and Del Tredici infuse their severe tone with enough broad levity to retain our interest and produce enjoyment. Because despite the circumstances being driven by financial tragedy and increased anxiety, those realities are less about motivation than backdrop. The reasons for Cassie and her daughter (Lolli Sorenson‘s Morgan) to be in this desolate area aren’t as important as the area being desolate. Her frustrations aren’t about appealing to Sonny’s similar rage either. They’re simply a byproduct of a setting with the potential to isolate its characters within a kill box devoid of help or escape.

This is a two-person show: Cassie versus Sonny. It’s a woman who assisted in destroying the market and became a victim of that destruction and a soft boy man-child who overstepped his means and ignited an emotional avalanche that ultimately turned his obvious psychopathic tendencies into a full-fledged character trait. Here they are both drowning under the weight of past-due bills and careers going nowhere fast with ex-spouses (Luke Wilson and Kaitlin Olson respectively) and children who got or want to get out of Dodge as quickly as possible. And now they’ve been connected by this murder because Sonny still believes himself to be a “good” guy that only wants to ensure Cassie won’t talk. But as paranoia and lies pile up, so do the bodies.

Arizona is an escalating comedy-of-errors with zero boundaries and no desire to lend a helping hand to anyone onscreen. Del Tredici instead presents multiple outs only to let them backfire in gruesome ways that are able to earn a chuckle (McBride is the king of deadpan, out-of-place reaction shots of unearned innocence) or spit-take chortle as he and Watson orchestrate the worst possible scenario at any given moment. They bring in Olson to fast-talk berate her ex-husband, David Alan Grier to hilariously squint his way through his sheriff’s understandable incredulity, and Wilson to be the well-meaning wet blanket destined to make matters worse in any attempt for heroics. And they’re here to suffer the consequences while Cassie and Sonny’s cat-and-mouse game grows more and more convoluted.

I won’t lie: that’s part of the appeal. We watch Cassie and Sonny do things knowing a roadblock is coming. But while we know its presence is imminent, we have no clue how it will arise. This is in large part due to Sonny spiraling out of control with every new kill. Remorse shifts to excuses and eventually gets replaced by pure cowboy joy. It’s the perfect role for McBride to lean into his manic sensibilities as DeWitt proves a fantastic straight man to serve us our proxy when he goes crazy. Cassie is trying to survive and save the daughter he’s using as leverage against her. After constantly acting on her own best interests, this dire situation allows her to prove to Morgan that she matters too.

The ride is far from perfect and most characters do nothing but add fuel to an already burning fire (see Elizabeth Gillies as Wilson’s new girlfriend and Travis Hammer as an inept security guard), but that’s to be expected. Watson and Del Tredici aren’t interested in raising dramatic stakes when they can simply raise the level of absurdity that surrounds them. So they force Cassie into new hiding places with built-in gags while supplying Sonny new ways to screw up despite having the advantage as more people arrive to pad the runtime before having to finally pit them against each other in a climactic showdown to the death. It’s stupid, exploits the housing crisis as fodder for violent lunacy, and murders with impunity. But I did have fun.


photography:
[1] [L-R] Elizabeth Gillies as Kelsey and Luke Wilson as Scott in the action comedy “ARIZONA,” an RLJE Films release. Photo courtesy of Cathy Kanavy.
[2] Danny McBride as Sonny in the action comedy “ARIZONA,” an RLJE Films release. Photo courtesy of Cathy Kanavy.
[3] [L-R] Kaitlin Olson as Vicki and Rosemarie DeWitt as Cassie in the action comedy “ARIZONA,” an RLJE Films release. Photo courtesy of Cathy Kanavy.

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