The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"ARIZONA"

Arizona

Arizona is one of those twisted, pitch-black comedies that not everyone will be able to get on the wavelength of. This is an angry film with a violent streak one that doesn't quite attain the meaning that it's clearly aiming for. Nevertheless, if your sense of humor is warped in just the right way, the sheer willingness to go to such dark places might just elicit some guilty laughs. Probably the best comparison for Arizona would be the 2009 Seth Rogen comedy Observe and Report. If you liked it, you might like this one as well. Similarly, if you were horrified by what you saw, steer clear.

The story takes place in 2009 -- right after the housing crisis, and inside an Arizona gated community now left largely vacated. Rosemarie DeWitt plays Cassie, a divorced real estate agent who's about to lose her own home because business has largely dried up. Her boss (Seth Rogen) repeatedly berates her for a market that is in no way her fault. By sheer coincidence, she sees one of the few remaining residents, Sonny (Danny McBride), accidentally kill someone. In a desperate attempt to keep his secret, Sonny bludgeons her and duct tapes her to a chair inside his home, where he details all the ways his life has gone to seed. Cassie tries to get away, and before long there's a whole trail of dead bodies.

Luke Wilson co-stars as Cassie's ex-husband, Elizabeth Gillies is his ditzy new girlfriend, and David Allen Grier is a local cop. Kaitlin Olson steals a couple of scenes as Sonny's estranged wife, making it clear that he has made her miserable, so she wants to make him miserable in return.

The basic theme of Arizona is that no matter how bad you think things might be, they can always be worse. Each new plot occurrence is even more horrific than the one before. Sonny allows his anger at the banks and institutions that screwed him to overtake his logic, leading to a string of bad decisions that only serve to dig the hole deeper.

In some respects, he becomes the very thing he hates the out-of-control, unethical whirlwind that leaves destruction in its wake. Whereas he was once the victim of schemers looking to make money off bad loans, Sonny is now the aggressor, tormenting Cassie (and anyone else who gets in his way) in order to advance his own self-interests. He becomes an angel of death because those responsible for his misery are to him, at least untouchable. That's a subversive idea, and if Arizona never carries it fully over the finish line, the film at least deserves some credit for tackling it.

Danny McBride thrives in a role like Sonny. Naturally gifted at playing humorously angry people, he understands how to wring a laugh from material that's designed to sting. The manner in which he backs up Sonny's rage with a fundamental sense of incompetence is fun to watch. You kind of empathize with him, even though he's gone off the deep end. Rosemarie DeWitt smartly acts as a counterbalance, playing Cassie totally straight and totally terrified. It works because you aren't sure whether she fears Sonny more because he's dangerous or because he's stupid.

Things grow a little preposterous during the third act of Arizona, and any observant viewer will see how the movie clearly telegraphs its ending early on. Good performances, coupled with an unabashed nasty-funny streak, give it enough juice to mostly get over those hurdles, though. While not the comic indictment of the housing crisis that The Big Short was, the film still makes the point that individuals suffered, in ways both overt and under the surface, to an inexcusable degree.

( out of four)


Arizona is unrated, but contains graphic bloody violence and adult language. The running time is 1 hour and 24 minutes.


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