×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sundance Film Review: ‘Arizona’

In this middling horror comedy set during the Arizona housing crisis, home buyer Danny McBride takes out his aggression with a gun.

Director:
Jonathan Watson
With:
Danny McBride, Rosemarie DeWitt, Luke Wilson, Lolli Sorenson, Elizabeth Gillies, Kaitlin Olson.

1 hour 25 minutes

Jonathan Watson’s spree killer horror film “Arizona” racks up bodies in a modern-day ghost town, an empty suburb in the fictional town of Harding, where the housing boom has just gone bust. It’s 2009, and real estate agent Cassie (Rosemary DeWitt) is peddling luxuries like whisper touch hinges and customized pools to buyers who know better than to invest in this nowheresville hamlet where most of the windows are boarded and the dead grass is spray-painted green.

Billboards boast that this desert ghetto is “Where life imitates vacation!” It’s really where life becomes a nightmare for single mom Cassie and her 14-year-old daughter Morgan (Lolli Sorenson) when murderous moron Sonny (Danny McBride) imprisons them in his house and grins that no neighbors can hear them scream. But to Sonny, Cassie’s no victim; she’s the villain whose company tricked him into mortgaging the home that drained his bank account and wrecked his marriage.

Watson has a great premise and an eye for the stone lions, abstract metal art, and spinning yard sculptures that mark buyers like Sonny as pretentiously middlebrow. He films ominous aerial shots of beige cul de sacs with zero signs of life and manages to make the yellow afternoon sun look sinister. Yet, as a caricature of American economics, “Arizona” peaks when Sonny flaunts his can’t-miss invention — frozen wine ice cubes that he swears a big store might buy — and brags that one of his weapons is “a Ginsu knife from Kohl’s.” From there, things just get goofy without being any fun.

Sonny’s right: Cassie is a great liar. In the opening scene, she smoothly attempts to convince a husband and his third wife that the home they’re considering is perfect for families, never mind that she knows its a 12-mile drive to the nearest school. But the sale is interrupted by a cry for help. The desperate man next door has just hanged himself from the ceiling fan, and as DeWitt tries to save his life, Watson cues the trumpets of Mark Lindsay’s rousing 1970 funk ballad “Arizona,” a salute to a hippie cowgirl who’s a ridiculous fraud.

Cassie is six months late on her own mortgage, yet she tells her ex-husband Scott (Luke Wilson) that everything is just wonderful. Never mind that her daughter hates her, and her boss (Seth Rogen in an uncredited cameo) is a pig who orders her to “put those tits to work.” DeWitt is living in a light drama. Then McBride barges in wearing a green polo shirt and Miami Vice visor and muscles the movie towards slapstick.

His Sonny enters angry, a sad sack lashing out at anyone who will listen. He doesn’t mean to become a killer, and once he does, his paranoia doesn’t escalate even though Luke Del Tredici’s script takes it as a given. His showdowns with DeWitt seem to take place on two different planes of existence. They’re both good actors in their own way: DeWitt is always excellent, and when he gets a chance, McBride has proven he can play a human, too. Here, however, he’s been directed to do his Danny McBride thing, a combustive mix of ego and idiocy that keeps his character from ever being scary. At worst, he’s the kind of guy who will throw a beer bottle at a Chili’s restaurant and lose a screaming match with the manager.

The character could work if Watson played up the satire. “Arizona” takes a whack at a couple bigger ideas, like a drunk teen playing mailbox baseball. As Scott and his new girlfriend Kelsey (Elizabeth Gillies) get lost on their rescue mission and ask a gas station if he knows a gated community named Something Del Oro, the attendant notes that half of all the complexes in town are named Del Oro — and they don’t let Mexicans move in. The revelation of Sonny’s sliding gun safe, a museum-worthy exhibit of Second Amendment overkill, goes nowhere. Even the entrance of Sonny’s estranged wife (a wickedly great Kaitlin Olson) has no dramatic impact. It just gets reduced to the punchline of her tacky Jeep, which boasts “Bad Bitch” on the windshield.

That earns a chuckle, but the laughs never get louder than that. A climactic chase scene adheres so closely to the final-girl formula that DeWitt is forced to run around in her bra. Why? The excuse is so inane, even McBride’s Sonny doesn’t buy it. As a debut film, “Arizona” shows that Watson could become a director with interesting ideas, but this housing crisis horror comedy is definitely just a rental.

Sundance Film Review: 'Arizona'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Midnight), Jan. 26, 2018. Running time: 85 MIN.

Production: A Rough House Pictures, Imperative Entertainment production. (International sales: Falco Ink, New York.) Producers: Danny McBride, Brandon James, Dan Friedkin, Bradley Thomas, Ryan Friedkin. Co-producer: Ian Watermeier. Executive producers: David Gordon Green, Jody Hill, Gino Falsetto, Luke Del Tredici.

Crew: Director: Jonathan Watson. Screenwriter: Luke Del Tredici. Camera (color): Drew Daniels. Editor: Jeff Seibenick. Music: Joseph Stephens.

With: Danny McBride, Rosemarie DeWitt, Luke Wilson, Lolli Sorenson, Elizabeth Gillies, Kaitlin Olson.

More Film

  • Atlantics

    Netflix Snags Worldwide Rights to Cannes Winners 'Atlantics,' 'I Lost My Body'

    Mati Diop’s feature directorial debut “Atlantics” and Jérémy Clapin’s animated favorite “I Lost My Body” have both been acquired by Netflix following wins at Cannes Film Festival. “Atlantics” was awarded the grand prix while “I Lost My Body” was voted the best film at the independent International Critics Week. The deals are for worldwide rights [...]

  • Stan Lee, left, and Keya Morgan

    Stan Lee's Former Business Manager Arrested on Elder Abuse Charges

    Stan Lee’s former business manager, Keya Morgan, was arrested in Arizona Saturday morning on an outstanding warrant from the Los Angeles Police Department. The LAPD’s Mike Lopez confirmed that the arrest warrant was for the following charges: one count of false imprisonment – elder adult; three counts of grand theft from elder or dependent adult, [...]

  • Moby attends the LA premiere of

    Moby Apologizes to Natalie Portman Over Book Controversy

    Moby has issued an apology of sorts after writing in his recently published memoir “Then It Fell Apart” that he dated Natalie Portman when she was 20 — a claim the actress refuted. “As some time has passed I’ve realized that many of the criticisms leveled at me regarding my inclusion of Natalie in Then [...]

  • Bong Joon-ho reacts after winning the

    Bong Joon-ho's 'Parasite' Wins the Palme d'Or at Cannes

    CANNES — The 72nd edition of the Cannes Film Festival wrapped with jury president Alejandro González Iñárritu announcing the group’s unanimous decision to award the Palme d’Or to South Korean director Bong Joon-ho for his sly, politically charged “Parasite.” Following last year’s win for humanistic Japanese drama “Shoplifters,” the well-reviewed Asian thriller represents the yin [...]

  • Invisible Life Brazilian Cinema

    Cannes Film Review: 'The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão'

    A “tropical melodrama” is how the marketing materials bill “The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão.” If that sounds about the most high-camp subgenre ever devised, Karim Aïnouz’s ravishing period saga lives up to the description — high emotion articulated with utmost sincerity and heady stylistic excess, all in the perspiring environs of midcentury Rio de [...]

  • Best Movies of Cannes 2019

    The 10 Best Movies of Cannes 2019

    The Cannes Film Festival is too rich an event to truly have an “off” year, but by the end of the 72nd edition, it was more or less universally acknowledged that the festival had regained a full-on, holy-moutaintop-of-art luster that was a bit lacking the year before. It helps, of course, to have headline-making movies [...]

  • Aladdin

    'Aladdin' Soaring to $100 Million-Plus Memorial Day Weekend Debut

    Disney’s live-action “Aladdin” remake is on its way to a commendable Memorial Day weekend debut with an estimated $109 million over the four-day period. The musical fantasy starring Will Smith and Mena Massoud should uncover about $87 million in its first three days from 4,476 North American theaters after taking in $31 million on Friday. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content