Fans of Danny McBride are accustomed to the actor playing brash characters who do horrible things. But usually there is a line his characters won’t cross and a visible insecurity that engenders sympathy even when he’s, say, burning his boss’ house down to the ground. Arizona takes away those limitations and offers a version of McBride’s persona that has no morals or redeeming qualities. This McBride is a straight-up murderous psychopath.
Even though McBride serves as the film’s main draw, this is really Rosemarie DeWitt’s film. As Cassie, Dewitt plays the divorced mother of a bratty teenager; her husband (Luke Wilson) left her for a much younger woman, and she sells rapidly depreciating homes in abandoned suburbs during the late 2000s housing crash. She herself was bamboozled into one of these homes and struggles with an oncoming foreclosure. And then Danny McBride enters her office, accidentally kills her boss (Seth Rogen) and kidnapps her to ensure she doesn’t call the police. So she has a lot going on.
That “accidentally” is important, as McBride isn’t presented as a psycho right away. Constantly averring his bona fides as a good person stuck in an increasingly violent situation, McBride spends much of the film under righteous delusion before finally giving into his evil nature. Cassie uses this to her advantage many times while it’s still applicable, and then drops it when it’s not, making her a heroine of true guile, determination and action. Her nearly endless battle with McBride is the real reason to see the film.
Arizona is a comedy, albeit a very violent one that gets its best laughs from sudden, unexpected death scenes. As such, McBride is not giving a “serious” performance like we saw from him in Alien: Covenant. His endless braggadocio is the same as always but lacks the usual punch and begins to sound like a broken record after a while. The violence and hunter-prey story structure picks up a lot of that slack, however.
The film also boasts a surprising roster of supporting actors. Kaitlin Olsen kills it here, as does a David Alan Grier. Like Seth Rogen, both show up more or less for cameos, but they also steal their scenes and help the conflict rise without getting too repetitive.
Arizona isn’t quite the comedy you might expect, but it makes a worthy trade as a quirky survival story with some social commentary thrown in as well, due to its very pronounced housing-crisis setting. If there’s any justice in the world, it should lead to a host of new roles for Rosemarie DeWitt, who really walks away with this whole thing and elevates it with her performance.