'Arizona' Review: Danny McBride Is An Unhinged Serial Killer [Sundance]

Jonathan Watson, the longtime assistant director on films as varied as Bad Boys and The Truman Show, makes his directorial debut with Arizona, a thriller set in the midst of the late 2000s economic housing crisis that stars Rosemarie DeWitt as a single mom realtor on the run from a deranged homeowner played by Danny McBride. While DeWitt is the ostensible lead, Arizona is more of a showcase for McBride's particular set of comedic skills, and as the hunt intensifies, it takes us on a tour through a section of America that was left decimated by the hubris of Wall Street.

Cassie (DeWitt) spends her days trying to sucker families into buying cookie-cutter houses in an Arizona suburb and dodging calls from the mortgage company who are looking to collect on her own delinquent payments. She's close to a sale when she hears screams from the neighboring house: a man has tried to hang himself from his ceiling fan, and his wife is desperately holding him up by the legs. That's where this movie starts, and it quickly spirals even further out of control when a disgruntled customer named Sonny (McBride) shows up at Cassie's office and starts fighting with her a**hole boss (Seth Rogen). It's not long before the situation escalates to kidnapping, though Sonny – a divorced loser who gives the kidnapped Cassie a tour of his tricked-out suburban McMansion because he thinks it's the best representation of who he really is – constantly maintains that he's a good person. The two bond over the crappy circumstances that brought about the housing bubble, but just when you think Sonny is going to let Cassie go, he realizes that her manipulative selling tactics are part of the same system that led him to his current position.

The rest of the movie is an escalation of violence and a lengthy chase through largely abandoned development complexes (which all look exactly alike). Cassie is desperate to find help, but she's partially responsible for the lack of people in the foreclosed properties all around her – a fact the movie doesn't reckon with enough. Eventually, she's able to enlist the help of a local cop (David Alan Grier) and her ex-husband (Luke Wilson), but when it comes down to it, Arizona ends up being about Cassie and her teenage daughter battling against McBride, who's basically playing the personification of white male privilege, entitlement, and insecurity.

But this movie isn't quite as woke as it thinks it is. There's a mean streak here that's far harsher than it needs to be, reflected in a couple instances of violence against women that are hard to watch (including one directed at Sonny's ex-wife, played by Kaitlin Olson) and a few brutal deaths for characters that probably don't deserve such extreme ends.

DeWitt, a capable character actress who hasn't led a movie in years, does the best she can with an underwritten role, making Cassie both mildly detestable and sympathetic. McBride, meanwhile, is basically just doing his normal schtick; fans of his will probably dig it, though a few of those bros strike me as the types that will laugh just a little too hard when they see a woman hit in the head with a golf club in one scene. The film spends a majority of its time ostensibly raging against toxic masculinity, but there are a few moments that fly in the face of that mentality.

And look, not every movie has to have flawlessly progressive politics, but if it's not fully committed to its thesis, at least it should have enough surface level thrills to get by. Unfortunately, Arizona feels like it's never quite able to take the story to the next level. There are a bunch of laugh-out-loud moments, I actually had some fun watching McBride's unhinged performance, and the ending is relatively satisfying, but at the end of the day, it just didn't add up to enough for me to be able to recommend it without hesitation.

/Film Rating: 6 out of 10