Monday, September 17, 2012

Raising Arizona (The Coens. 1987)

"I'll be taking these Huggies and whatever cash ya got."



I feel like the best way to open this review is to say that I, Christopher Jake Mikal Ray, love Nicolas Cage. Like, I think he may be my favorite actor. Are a lot of his movies bad? Sure. Is he bad? Never. Say what you want about his ability to choose roles in films, but there has never been a person on this Earth who would say that he isn’t giving 100%. Think about his work in the famously bad remake of one of my favorite movies, The Wicker Man. In that train wreck of a movie Nic Cage still gives the audience his best shot. I would say that though he may not have a lot of respect for himself, he certainly respects the moviegoer. And that is all I need in an actor. 

I also really enjoy the Coen Brothers on pretty much every level. In fact, I have seen the vast majority of their work – not that it is particularly difficult to come across their movies, I simply have always made an effort to find a Coen masterpiece. Their Shakespearian ability to turn a phrase and the fluidity of the dialogue has always fascinated me. Like Taratino, the Coen Brothers do not just make movies, they create universes. And the characters who inhabit those universes always become more real than real.  My favorite film of all time? No Country for Old Men. So you get my point. 

With all of that being said, I was immensely disappointed with the one Coen “masterpiece” that has eluded me for all these years. Raising Arizona is a goofy, screwball mess of a movie that tries to combine too many things that the makers seem to know nothing about. I can safely say that in retrospect because the Coens did go on to make some good comedies. But at this time it might have been over their heads. It isn’t safe to call it a wacky movie. The Marx Brothers were wacky. Raising Arizona crosses the line that every comedy toes. It is a stupid movie. 

Nicolas Cage plays a small-time robber of convenient stores who constantly finds himself in the same rut of robberies, arrests, fingerprints and prison. During said rut, he meets a questionable cop played by Holly Hunter and the two fall in love and make a home together. Sadly, Ed (Hunter) is not able to conceive a child. And H.I. (Cage) has a more than spotty criminal background that keeps the couple from being able to adopt. These two are not the wisest characters to ever be spotlighted in a movie. Their solution to this problem is to kidnap one of Nathan Arizona’s quintuplets and parade him as their own child. 

Nathan Arizona is a major furniture salesman in the area and seems to be living a pretty shallow life with his wife and five new babies. I kinda wish that his character would have been explored more in-depth. Arizona is hilariously played by Trey Wilson and could have been a zonky pusher of the side plot. While watching the movie I kept wanting to see more of how Nathan was reacting to his child going missing, but the Coens decided to take the movie in a couple of directions that did not work for me. 

Movies can be stylized, I get that. But sometimes it is important for the filmmakers to take a step back and pay some respect to believability. Nothing in Raising Arizona can be believed – especially the main antagonist. Leonard Smalls is a finder of men who lives in the underworld. He represents evil. He blazes into town on a smoke-shooting hog with sawed-off shot guns strapped to his back as if to symbolize the wings of Satan. He is equipped with grenades, knives, unbelievable hand-to-hand skill and a ridiculous tolerance for pain. Key words? Unbelievable and ridiculous. 

Because those are words that could perfectly describe the man hired to find Arizona’s kidnapped son and return him home. As masterful as the Coens were when they created Anton Chigurh as the apex of everything evil, they were equally as neophyte-trical in creating Smalls. His badass traits did not carry weight because he was obviously supposed to be over the top. What did that accomplish? It made him look silly. Which may have been the point the Coens wanted to make. But only certain amount of silly can work. Think about the difference between Anchorman and Semi-Pro. Exactly…

 I think there are a lot of interesting things happening in Raising Arizona. Cage, Hunter and John Goodman all give everything they have in their respective roles. A lot of talented people were involved in making this movie. My issue is that it is too over the top. It doesn’t stick as a satire of anything, and its finer points are overshadowed by certain scenes of prolonged stupidity. What makes the Coens great is their ability to thrust the audience into something that they can believe is real and tangible, but ultimately ludicrous. It should take some thought before it is dismissed. Raising Arizona is dismissed immediately. And that’s what makes it disappointing. 

Raising Arizona: C

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