Ah, Arizona. It’s a beautiful place. Especially if you like to hike. Or be alone. Or pretend you’re a professional golfer. There’s A LOT of golf in Arizona. But as beautiful as it is, it can also be a deadly place. Forget the rattle snakes, scorpions, and dumbasses taking selfies on the sides of cliffs. Arizona is a place where the heat is so intense, it can make less stable humans a little crazy. Especially if that person is Danny fucking McBride in Arizona…
…Directed by Jonathan Watson and written by Luke Del Tredici (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Arizona is set in the midst of the 2009 housing crisis, which was a recent period in American history where everyone just about lost their damn minds because they couldn’t afford to pay their mortgages. When a particularly frustrated man, Sonny (Danny McBride) accidentally kills his realtor in front of his co-worker, Cassie (Rosemarie DeWitt), Sonny decides to kidnap Cassie until he decides what to do with her. But as one thing after another seems to go wrong, and Sonny’s witness list begins to grow, the two are forced into a bloody, day long rampage that can only end with one of them dead.
In dealing with the housing crisis, Arizona is populated mainly by characters who are broken and struggling with the weight of reality, featuring a knock-out cast of comedians trying something a little different from their usual genre fare. Aside from McBride and DeWitt, the cast also includes Kaitlin Olson of It’s Always Sunny fame as McBride’s ex-wife, as well as Luke Wilson as DeWitt’s ex-husband (noticing a familial theme here?) Hell, even Seth Rogen appears in a brief cameo, plus various others. It’s refreshing to see the entire cast taking on a film that is a little different from their usual work, proving that actors are often scapegoated into one genre and just because they typically star in comedies, that doesn’t mean that’s all they can do.
Everyone puts in a good performance, but none are more transformative than McBride. Honestly, with his character being an unhinged, bumbling idiot, his role as Sonny isn’t that drastically different from his previous films, but it’s the way in which McBride presents the character that feels so different. Generally, I find myself expecting a good laugh from McBride, and while he is plenty entertaining in Arizona, he also hones in on the desperate insanity of his character so well that he is completely unpredictable. McBride is such a psychotic fool in this film, that it makes him incredibly dangerous in the sense that, accidental or not, you can never predict when the next victim will meet his wrath. And he is plenty vengeful, blaming his situation on Cassie and people like her, realtors who sold people the American dream and then ran away with their cash, but what especially gets his blood boiling is liars, so each time Cassie lies, you’ll feel your heart start to beat a little faster because we simply don’t ever know what Sonny is going to do. Arizona is McBride’s own Falling Down. He is the embodiment of wrath, and he enjoys the hell out of the chaos he creates. Fans of McBride will be impressed by the intimidation he brings to the screen.
And holy shit, is there plenty of chaos. Arizona absolutely sizzles and burns like the hot sun melting its characters brains. The film is full of “oh shit” moments that come out of nowhere, raising the stakes to a level where we understand that Watson does not ever want us to know what’s coming next, and for the most part, he succeeds. To say that Arizona is “terrifying” would be a hell of a stretch, so horror fans shouldn’t expect a film that will “scare” them, but there is plenty of shock value and gore in a movie that is surprisingly dark for being so goddamn fun.
With the eclectic cast of comedians, it’s no wonder that Arizona is reminiscent of an old SNL (or was it MAD TV) skit in which a man accidentally kills someone in his house, and then suddenly everyone, from the mailman to the paper boy to the damn milkman shows up, forcing him to increase the body count. With the way Tredici’s script plays out, Arizona is a comedic rampage that generates natural laughs while hardly ever forcing the comedy. For a film that is extremely over the top in its uncompromising madness, Watson has his cast play the comedy relatively straight to a degree where everything they’re saying and doing actually feels believable. Arizona comes with the understanding that just because this is a dark horror comedy does not mean everyone in the cast has to be “funny”. These characters feel like real people trapped in a very unfortunate situation who are responding the same way a lot of us might when faced with such a ridiculous predicament. I mean, yeah, you’re scared when you find yourself kidnapped by someone who just murdered your co-worker, but how are you not supposed to laugh a little on the inside when said murderer tells you they have a business which sells ice cubes made out of wine that they think is going to take off soon? By playing the comedy so realistically, it allows us to buy into the situation, which just makes it more jaw-dropping when the real shit goes down.
I would argue though that Arizona, though it moves at a perfect pace once it gets going, jumps into the chaos a little too quickly. Rather than build up the characters of Sonny and Cassie, we’re thrown right into the fire with them about ten minutes into the film after a too brief insight into Cassie and her life at home. McBride and DeWitt play them well enough for us to forgive any lack of real development, but it feels as if Tredici has something more to say with his script, yet it never pays off. I mentioned earlier that McBride blames Cassie and other realtors for not just his situation, but everyone involved in the house crisis (and really, he’s not that wrong), and he continues to blame her all throughout the film and throw it in her face that she is a liar. Cassie herself is a broken woman, with a broken family, and there is plenty of room for her to grow and learn the error of her ways, but, that never happens. There is no retribution moment for Cassie, not in the way the script seems to imply there should be, which causes Arizona to come off about as unbalanced as Sonny.
Yet despite a lack of clarity with its themes, Arizona is a fun, blood-soaked rampage. Arizona won’t scare you, and the comedy isn’t the sort to have you rolling on the floor laughing, so it probably won’t blow you away, but is nevertheless a balls to the wall thrill ride through the blood-stained streets of Arizona suburbs.
Arizona is available now on VOD.
By Matt Konopka