“Arsenal,” a pulpy crime drama about desperate characters and excessive carnage in Biloxi, Miss., is memorable primarily for some random scraps of loopy dialogue, the credible evocation of a sleazy demimonde rife with white-trash lawbreakers, and yet another Nicolas Cage performance that could be labeled Swift’s Premium and sold by the pound. Decked out in a putty nose, a bad wig, and a fake mustache that resembles an exhausted caterpillar, Cage plays a mood-swinging, coke-addled crime boss with the same manic gusto that lately has distinguished his work in scads of other easy-paycheck misadventures. (You could argue that, at this point, he is to 21st-century VOD fare what Wings Hauser was to ’80s direct-to-video quickies.) And while his over-the-top shtick is perilously nearing the end of its shelf life, Cage routinely dominates each film in which he appears, even when, as happens here, he is off screen for extended periods.
Adrian Grenier and Johnathon Schaech are the nominal leads, competently playing disparate siblings whose frayed family ties are sorely tested by the machinations of Jason Mosberg’s screenplay. JT (Grenier), an upright family man who owns and operates a construction company, is committed to covering the back of his ne’er-do-well brother, Mikey (Schaech). Unfortunately, Mikey has been far too close for far too long to Eddie King (Cage), a seedy gangster given to angry outbursts, ferocious violence, and twisted moralizing. (When JT aims an F-bomb in his direction, Eddie expresses disapproval: “Didn’t your mom teach you boys how to speak with distinction?”) Even more unfortunately, Eddie impulsively decides he could wrangle a hefty ransom from JT by employing Mikey, willingly or otherwise, as a hostage.
“Arsenal” isn’t big on explaining things, so don’t expect to find out why an undercover cop (John Cusack) is — conveniently — JT’s BFF, or how the straight-arrow JT so easily evolves into a two-fisted, gun-wielding avenger. Director Steven C. Miller more or less plays fairly by the rules of the genre, to the point of adding his own spin to the Law of Chekhov’s Gun. (In this case: Don’t introduce a stun grenade in the first act if you’re not going to detonate it in the third.) But his self-consciously stylized depiction of gruesome mayhem — lots of slo-mo beatings, shootings and blood-spurtings, often underscored with gospel choirs — is just so much pointless flash and filigree. As the closing credits roll, you may find yourself thinking that if Miller had just let everyone bleed out and die in real time, the movie might have been 10, maybe 15 minutes shorter.