It was one of those long fruitless nights where you do not know what to do because you are not tired enough to sleep but you feel too lazy to do anything active, like write, or even play a video game…So, you go on YouTube and find a free movie to watch. Unfortunately that movie turned out to be ‘Arizona’.
From the packaging on the thumbnail it looks as if it is trying to emulate a neo-noir Western, but it is nothing of the sort. Instead, it is entirely focused on telling the bizarre story of the housing crisis in Arizona through the situation of a dark comedic thriller. We start off with a realtor trying to sell homes during the onset of the crisis in 2009, only to then jump to someone in the finance industry trying to kill themselves in a home nearby, only to then, I assume, leap forward in time? It is hard to tell, because it cuts to a bunch of establishing shots with a song from what I can only assume sounds like the 60’s, then with that same realtor relaxing in a pool in the middle of the day. Is it days in the future, weeks, months? It tries to go for the darkly comedic “switcheroo” of morbid scene with serious ambient music followed by catchy upbeat song intro title, only it is trying way too hard. The crappy acting on the guy who was literally just hanging and then smashed in the face by a ceiling fan angrily lurches upward to shout “KILL ME!” before the title transition, as if it was not obvious enough.
The majority of the film features a cat-and-mouse game, with McBride chasing down a woman who was a witness to his crime. First, Sonny (McBride’s character) accidentally kills the lead woman’s boss, who was witness to the manslaughter incident, gets kidnapped by an untrusting Sonny, which the lead woman then makes a series of very stupid statements which leads Sonny further and further into a rabbit hole of paranoia. He goes from manslaughter, to kidnapping, to straight-up murdering his ex-wife all within the first 18 minutes we are introduced to him. If you are wondering why I cannot remember the lead woman’s character’s name, it is because it is beyond forgettable. Her acting is turgid and reactionary more than natural or built-into the role. In fact, the only two enjoyable actors on screen were McBride, and David Alan Grier, who has a short role as the sheriff. McBride is full of charisma and takes pleasure in chewing the absolute shit out of the scenery, for the betterment of the film (the only reason this is not a 1 star review) and he does not necessarily sell the emotions he portrays, so much as makes them comedic, probably being able to tell how bad the writing is himself. He shows a modicum of range, more-so than any other film I have seen him in, which is another point in his favor. The ridiculous frosted tips he dons throughout the film though is a point against him. I will never understand the appeal of that hairstyle. It makes your head look like a used paint brush.
Anyway, the film tries desperately to sell it being both a comedy and a thriller, and while McBride can sort of sell the role of “discontented, manic, middle aged hipster”, he cannot sell anything else in the film. It is just chalk full of false-starts, meaningless plot points, and endless assumptions by our supposedly incompetent, yet strangely psychic villain, Sonny. Some moments he is lazy, senseless, and sloppy, and at other times he has bits of genius beyond what you would expect. Which also mirrors the comedy and thriller aspects. Some parts of it are lazy, senseless, and sloppy, and other times, it has some genuinely interesting moments of suspense where you have no idea what will happen. Those moments are few and far between though.
The film tries to project bits of contemplativeness onto the viewer, showing the desolate, abandoned landscape of the development planning that fell through, characters constantly mentioning or showing how cheap, poorly produced, lazy, or monotonous the designs, construction, and architecture is, how screwed over they are, yadda yadda yadda. At a certain point it crosses the threshold from trying to make a point about how screwed over the people were by the development planners, and it starts to eek over into “Arizona sucks” territory, turning it from a comedy, into a sort of mean-spirited dig at the state.
They try to stylize the film with synth-heavy music, and legitimize the serious aspects with a surprising amount of practical effects, not everything simply being a cheap CGI rendering, which lends more to the intensity of the scenes. Although this is all immediately suffocated by the lackluster acting of the protagonists and the flat and very boring framing and camera work on display. There are times when it tries to do something imaginative, but it just comes off as out of place, like when Sonny goes for a walk in slow-mo with his dog which gives the filmmakers an opportunity to showcase the abandoned landscape. It feels awkward from a tonal perspective, and it makes the viewer ask “…why?” There are plenty of other opportunities that could have been used for that, but instead they use it for Sonny walking his dog. Bizarre. And there are dozens more little moments like that scattered throughout the film. Are they trying to make it feel edgy? Are they supposed to feel comedic? Are we supposed to feel alienated by the emptiness of it all? It is a mish-mashed hodge-podge of ideas lacking in direction, realization, and proper tonal style, making this the film equivalent of a ketchup covered Oreo.