If traditional comedy says “nothing is sacred,” too often black comedy says “everything is meaningless” and also “fuck you, Jack.” Every character is just the setup to a ghastly punchline, and the joke is on the audience. We attach to characters as a function of storytelling, and when their brains are splattered in the service of hilarity, the result is a mingled sense of horror and the feeling you’ve been punked.
Director Jonathan Watson’s super-violent Arizona is a well-done but chilly and essentially unlovable black comedy with one tiny spark of warmth — Rosemarie DeWitt’s performance as Cassie, a real estate broker who finds herself underwater financially after the 2006 housing market collapses. She’s a witness when Sonny (Danny McBride), another bankrupted homeowner, murders her horrible boss Gary (Seth Rogen).
In his haste to flee the scene, Sonny, a psychopathic knucklehead, knocks out Cassie and takes her to his house, a McMansion lost in a suburban Arizona wasteland of empty foreclosures. Watson cultivates a sense of isolation and dread as dimwit Sonny vacillates between murdering Cassie and forcing a promise that she won’t report him.
Screenwriter Luke Del Tredici’s best move is using the housing crash as a setting, and he peoples it with broad comedic stereotypes. The flatter the character, the more they’re like a paper target at a shooting range. As the kidnapping escalates to a series of brutal killings, Sonny murders his shrewish ex-wife (Kaitlin Olson), a hard-nosed cop (David Alan Grier), Cassie’s hapless ex (Luke Wilson), and a redneck subdivision guard, and even blows out the brains of a cute, heroic rottweiler as a visual gag. Life is meaningless. Fuck you, Jack.
Directed by Jonathan Watson
Opens August 24, AMC 34th Street
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 21, 2018