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Comedy thriller ‘Arizona’ offers plenty of both

August 23, 2018

Crime has a natural path into comedy, especially if it doesn’t sacrifice its core of darkness. “Arizona,” a hilariously unflattering portrait of the suburban Southwest, roars down that trail with both feet on the accelerator, guns blazing, kerosene-soaked rags in the trunk and nobody wearing a seat belt.

If you liked “Breaking Bad’s” bloody transformation of a sad sack science teacher into a meth-dealing Scarface, this will have you jumping up and down. Bad things happen, punchlines land hard enough to pop your eyes and Judeo-Christian principles are torn away like bark being ripped off old trees. It’s a lot of fun.

The setting is a slice of Arizona wasteland; the time is the 2009 mortgage meltdown when the housing market collapsed like a tower of Jenga blocks. That is the rampaging elephant in the room when Cassie (Rosemarie DeWitt, TV’s “Mad Men”), a real estate agent and single mom, walks her clients around a McMansion in a largely unpopulated development. She’s dead broke and struggling for sales with a tone of forced optimism so sunny it could give you heatstroke.

After a delightfully malicious face-to-face with her arrogant con man boss, she witnesses an even angrier showdown he has with an upset client. Sonny (Danny McBride from “Pineapple Express” in a long-deserved leading role) is ticked off because his home, which was promised to double in value, is now underwater, which leads to the two men slapping each other like irate T. rexes.

The fallout from that spat results in Sonny taking Cassie as his hostage. They go on the run, a flight that takes them places together, apart and in pursuit of each other. Along the way they cross paths with, among others, her ex-husband, his much younger girlfriend, Sonny’s ex and their town’s one-man police department, leaving impressive, and often accidental, destruction in their wake. While cast members of note are usually named in reviews, discovering the veteran comedians who show up for cameos is part of the movie’s charm.

The characters try to take a rational approach to an increasingly irrational world. McBride makes Sonny, who is in big trouble from early on, oblivious to admitting how big a hole he is digging himself into. He holds Cassie prisoner in an apologetic, humane manner. When she tells him she won’t cooperate, he’s not threatening, he’s exasperated.

There’s an underlying connection between Sonny and Cassie. They’ve both just come out of bad marriages, lie but hate being lied to, are starved for happiness, want a way out of their financial death spiral and have, to a degree, brought it all on themselves. They’re insecure and living in parallel isolation and could have been friends under happier circumstances. He talks sweet until things go wrong and then echoes an abusive husband’s “See what you made me do?” This wicked directorial debut from Jonathan Watson tickles your ribs and then slides a kitchen knife between them.

Colin Covert • 612-673-7186

@colincovert

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