“This is getting really old,” a character remarks toward the close of Jonathan Watson’s brutal action comedy “Arizona,” and the few people in the audience are likely to agree. Despite the fact that it adds victim after victim to the roster of corpses as it drags on, the movie is basically a one-trick affair that runs out of gas long before the final reel.
It’s likely that Luke Del Tredici’s script has been gathering dust for awhile, since it deals with the period following the collapse of the housing bubble in 2008. The setting is a near-deserted development in the desert of Arizona, where most of the McMansions are already empty, those unfortunate suckers still in their homes contemplate ending it all, and real estate agent Cassie (Rosemary DeWitt) soldiers on despite the fact that she’s deep in debt and facing foreclosure too, though when her ex Scott (Luke Wilson) drops off their teen daughter Morgan (Lolli Sorenson) for a visit, she won’t admit her financial problems.
Cassie’s boss Gary (an uncredited Seth Rogen) is the author of the place’s troubles, and he treats her like dirt. He quickly gets his comeuppance, though, when crazed Sonny (Danny McBride), who’s lost his family and is about to lose his house, bursts into the office and, after a tussle, sends him falling off the balcony to the parking lot below. He then takes Cassie hostage, though it’s clear the blithering, motor-mouthed boob has no idea how to proceed.
What follows is a series of frantic interruptions by other characters, who invariably wind up in Sonny’s crosshairs, as Cassie (along with Morgan, who’s taken captive as well) repeatedly try to escape his clutches. The first is his screeching ex-wife Vicki (Kaitlin Olson), who winds up tied to a chair beside Cassie. Later comes Coburn, a gun-happy cop played by David Alan Grier. And last but not least is Scott, who shows up with his new girlfriend Kelsey (Elizabeth Gillies) after Cassie has managed to call him and beg for help. The appearances of all of them are accompanied by elements of supposed comedy (Scott has forgotten the name of the subdivision and has to stop for directions, and even Cassie has trouble finding Sonny’s house when leading Coburn to it, since they all look much the same).
One would hope that the hubbub would lead up to something more inspired than an extended chase of Cassie and Morgan through the development, which must be intended as a parody of the maniacal-killer-pursuing-final-victim clichés of horror movies like “Halloween,” but comes off less like a spoof than a simple rerun of it.
The cast offers a few bright spots. DeWitt is fine as the beleaguered heroine, but it’s a humiliating part, especially when she’s reduced to disrobe down to her bra in the latter stages. Grier and Olson manage a few amusing notes. And Wilson does his usual hangdog bit.
But all of them are swamped by McBride, who appears to be the human equivalent of Spinal Top’s amplifier always set at an eleven. Even when he tries to tone it down—in a few grimly genial exchanges with Cassie, in a phone call with his absent son—he overplays badly. Yes, he’s playing a guy who’s gone off his rocker, but there needs to be some modulation in the performance to make it tolerable at center stage over ninety minutes. McBride offers little to none, and as a result he, and the movie along with him, have become insufferable by the frenziedly unfunny final reel.
There’s always room for a good dark comedy, but “Arizona” takes a feeble premise and runs it into the ground. One has the feeling that theatres showing it will be as empty as the failed housing development where it’s set.