Published Jan 25, 2018Having worked as an assistant director on shows like Vice Principals and Eastbound & Down, Jonathan Watson clearly understands all of the elements of a Danny McBride project. Arizona, his directorial debut, attempts to blend dumb-guy humour with violent thriller elements and social commentary, but the results are mixed.
Set in the aftermath of the mid-aughts housing crash, the film centres on Cassie (Rosemarie DeWitt), a down-on-her-luck real estate agent whose own home is at risk of foreclosure. The asshole who sold her the house is also her boss, Gus (a brief cameo from Seth Rogen), and he's been unloading bad properties on unsuspecting suckers for years. One such sucker is Sonny (McBride), a cornball dork with knockoff sunglasses and frosted tips poking out of a golf visor. He attempts to confront Gus for selling him a dud of a home, accidentally murdering him in the process.
Following his act of rage, Sonny panics. In an effort to cover up the murder, he kidnaps Cassie, bringing her to his cookie-cutter home in another mostly abandoned cookie-cutter subdivision.
As the film progresses, Sonny goes to more ridiculous heights to cover up his crime, leaving a trail of dead bodies in the process. Cassie eventually escapes his clutches long enough to call her ex-husband Scott (Luke Wilson), who hits rush hour in an attempt to come save her before finding himself lost in a maze of near-identical starter homes.
Setting a gruesome thriller in a dilapidated suburb on the edge of the desert is a smart move, as the beige stucco and unmaintained lawns make for a strange and unnerving setting. Further, the comedy elements of the film are spot on — few can play beta male desperation for laughs quite like McBride.
Unfortunately, where Arizona falters is in its tone. The film's goofy laughs often detract from any suspense, while Sonny's motives are never explored beyond his clear insecurities. As such, the film's gruesomely violent moments often feel jarring and unearned.
That said, Arizona will likely find plenty of fans at drunken midnight screenings — there are plenty of moments worthy of hooting and hollering at the screen. (Imperative)