Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 29, 2020)
As noted in the movie’s prologue, a US housing boom in the George W. Bush era turned into a massive bust. In this setting, 2018’s Arizona takes us to 2009 for a dark comedy related to the financial decline.
Divorced single mother Cassie Fowler (Rosemarie DeWitt) works as a realtor in Harding, Arizona. Given the crummy market, she struggles to generate any sales.
Cassie’s boss Gary Bartka (Seth Rogen) goes through a confrontation with client Sonny (Danny McBride), as Sonny feels upset that his home’s value declined so precipitously. This gets violent and leads to Gary’s accidental death, an action that sends Cassie into a wild spiral as Sonny tries to cover his tracks.
Though it played at a few film festivals, Arizona never got a theatrical release. That left it as a classic “direct-to-video” effort despite some reasonably well-known talent involved.
If Blu-rays didn’t include previews when they launch, I doubt Arizona ever would’ve come upon my radar. However, RLJ advertised it across a few of their other releases, and I thought those trailers made it look like a fun black comedy.
News flash: trailers lie.
Not that I’d call Arizona a bad movie, as it manages occasional moments of modest entertainment. Most of these materialize early, as the general comedy of the opening act brings a few moderately interesting sequences.
However, Arizona soon finds itself boxed into a corner, as it doesn’t develop its premise well. Basically the story revolves around the conflict between Sonny and Cassie, as his screw-ups put her in greater danger.
The film doesn’t do much with these elements, as they tend to seem gratuitous. The struggles between the two always seem contrived and not especially interesting.
The biggest problem comes from the movie’s inconsistent tone, as Arizona can’t decide if it wants to be a dark thriller or a goofy comedy or a social satire. The film attempts all three, and none of them satisfy.
Given the cast, Arizona really should’ve leaned heavily on the comedic elements. With McBride, David Alan Grier and Rogen in tow, the flick obviously points toward laughs, and it shows some potential when it pursues that path.
However, Arizona digs toward its thriller side most of the time, and it actually becomes more like a horror film as it goes, with Sonny as its crazed killer. This all feels like a real stretch, and the film doesn’t explore the evolution in a satisfying manner.
I like the fact DeWitt spends much of the last act without a shirt, but otherwise, Arizona disappoints. A lackluster mix of thriller and comedy, the various elements don’t mesh into a strong final product.