Directed by Jonathan Watson.
Starring Danny McBride, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kaitlin Olson, Luke Wilson, David Alan Grier, Lolli Sorenson, and Elizabeth Gillies.
Set in the midst of the 2009 housing crisis, this darkly comedic story follows Cassie Fowler, a single mom and struggling realtor whose life goes off the rails when she witnesses a murder.
Jonathan Watson’s Arizona charges out the proverbial gate furious about 2006’s housing bubble burst, tying frustration and lies to financial ruin. Dystopian Western developments all boarded up and stripped down in an effort to lure cut-rate purchasers. Luke Del Tredici exploits a tumultuous period in recent American history, but as the credits roll, we’re left wondering why. What begins with slippery realtors ends on bloodshed by desperation. Bodies pile up, numbskullery motivates, practice makes far from perfect – but lost in the shuffle is consistent commentary on what disastrous nearsightedness brought us here. Halfway fleshed satire boiled down to a one-note gunsmoke and violence bang.
Rosemarie DeWitt stars as Cassie, a single mother stuck in one of many “luxury” Arizona housing communities. Now empty, gutted, and worthless to flip. Even worse? It’s her job to sell surrounding units, which is hard when property values don’t even include basements (sell without as a loophole, buyer renovates later). Salt of the Earth people like Sonny (Danny McBride) thought they were cuttin’ a slice of the American dream, but are left with a backyard view of unfinished golf resort greens. That’s what brings Sonny to his realtor Gary’s (Seth Rogen) office, where he accidentally kills him. And then takes Cassie hostage because she’s a witness. And keeps killing more people even though he repeatedly assures everyone he’s not a bad guy.
You’re here for the Danny McBride murder show and you’ll get it – just not much else.
What’s frustrating is how Arizona is never as enraged as its graphic introductory statement on just *how* bad middle-class homeowners felt crashing economic sectors. Cassie’s in the middle of showing one of many hollow units when a neighbor starts screaming for help. The realtor and her clients race over, mocking shoddy craftsmanship along the way. What do they find? A ceiling-hung homeowner pleading for death because of the situation he’s found himself in. Sonny’s angry, hostile, and toxic transitional outburst throws resonating hardships as such out the window once scheming takes hold. Are there thrills and laughs? Certainly – just never as poignant as opening “fact-dropping.”
It’d be foolish to say McBride doesn’t own his role as a suburban murderer with back problems and a short attention span. No plan goes his way. Unleashing a security dog on Cassie and daughter Morgan (Lolli Sorenson)? Mr. Canine turns around and attacks him. Ex-wife played by Kaitlin Olson drops by? She ends up bashed in the face with a granite countertop sample. His waiting outside a sewer drainage pipe for a fleeing Cassie whilst playing some mobile golf app game? She scurries out the tube a few feet down and he doesn’t even notice. Sonny’s schtick is he hobbles around and exhibits empathy towards Cassie in moments of “companionship” because, deep down, he truly (maybe) doesn’t want to kill her – but everything is “her fault.”
This becomes Sonny’s calling card, which plays into McBride’s oafish unpredictability. He’s harmless and unassuming until a point, then he’s spraying David Alan Grier’s brains all over the carpet. Headshotting numerous other bystanders. McBride curses like a sailor with typical chatterbox wit, gimps around like an invalid when his affliction flares up, but paints a portrait of a serial killer smiling that signature bloodsoaked smile. Calmly accepting his fate of fleeing to Mexico and hoping for the best. Sonny is some Coen Brothers type slasher villain whose “oopsie-daisy” mindset truly makes him believe he’s just a “decent” guy in a bad scenario, unwilling to accept any fault in his wrongdoing. Man’s greatest flaw.
All this said, not much is learned from Cassie’s adventure. Besides setting Los Campos De Oro ablaze and endangering far more innocents than necessary, it all ends on an exploitation finale where death has just been laughed off by a psychotic Miami Vice fan for the last hour. Arizona is a one-trick pony. Rinse and repeat Watson’s narcissistic cycle of Cassie escaping, outsiders intervening, and more dead bodies. Random acts of violence in the name of McBride’s redneck charisma that grows tiresome without backing motives. Bumbling, stumbling chills finish the same way – a wink, nudge, and cackle from Sonny that restarts everything.
There are aspects to praise. Joseph Stephens’ score blends EDM-quirk into anxious orchestral plucks that bring out Sonny’s joviality. Drew Daniels’ cinematography plays up the vacant nature of these “exotic” communities, now all dried up and stinking of hopelessness. DeWitt is a capable female lead fending for herself under dire circumstances. McBride – well, like I said. Imagine his This Is The End “character” except he never got the chance to become a cannibal and instead found himself with a corpse and “no” options. It’ll all depend on your tolerance of slapstick brutality.
Arizona is for those who don’t mind goofball shooting galleries for the sake of very bad things. Personally, I need a bit more. Jonathan Watson’s wild rodeo wants to be the lowlife, scuzzy genre watch soaked in pitch-black intrigue, but ends up sacrificing meaning in the process. An underbelly reclamation of dignity with the worst possible outcome, fueled by a want to both delight and destroy. Not exactly winning merits, including a fiery finale that loosely wraps frustration in chaos – and only raises larger questions.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★ / Movie: ★★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram (@DoNatoBomb).