WHEN LACONIC BECOMES TEDIUM
Some may think it is a critic’s job to be critical. That they revel in taking apart an artist’s work. Others would go on to suggest that critics take as much joy in throwing barbs as a child tossing darts at balloons at a carnival. Of course, there are those that can be just downright evil. But, I try to come from an audience point of view with a vast knowledge of cinema history. Therefore, I take no great pleasure in warning the reader about anything that does not live up to my credo: Life is too short not to be entertained.
This does not mean I avoid a good drama or stray away from anything that may tax my mind like David Lynch, Alejandro Jodorowsky or Darren Aronofsky. I just want the film to strike a chord in me, leave me with a memorable impression. Which Clark Duke’s Arkansas did not. It’s not a good sign when half-way through the film you pause it to see how much longer it’s going to meander along.
Don’t get me wrong, Duke and fellow writer Andrew Boonkrong’s script based on John Brandon’s novel seems to have a lot of promise with off-beat low-lifes, some snappy dialogue here and there, and the idea of exploring the underbelly of the southern criminal life. Duke also has wonderful actors to play with in John Malkovich, Vince Vaughn and Vivica A. Fox. The problem is Duke’s laconic directing style lacks the sizzle necessary for such sordid tales. That, and the two leads, Liam Hemsworth and Clark Duke himself, are as interesting as a white bread with mayo sandwich.
Hemsworth plays Kyle, a drug dealer that has come to accept his lot in life. He don’t expect much and doesn’t need much. Wow, if that doesn’t suck us in. I’m being facetious. Hemsworth has nothing to play with but his good looks, a lackadaisical attitude with a one-note delivery. A better actor might have turned Kyle into something memorable. The whole time I was watching Hemsworth I couldn’t help think what someone like Joaquin Phoenix would have done with the part, playing against the likes of Malkovich and Vaughn.
Kyle is promoted to move “product” in Arkansas for a third rate criminal empire run by a mysterious man named Frog, played with great bravado by Vince Vaughn. In the middle of his first run, Kyle meets up with his dubious new partner, Swin, part geek/loser/oddball. Clark Duke tries his hardest to be the comic relief of the two. His delivery is very dry and at times reminded me of Bud Cort (Harold and Maude) just nowhere near as endearing or as interesting.
As the two make their way to their first score, they encounter a wily old park ranger. Who better than John Malkovich as the law that runs afoul? Turns out Malkovich actually works for Frog and sidesteps the two, making them less important. They end up doing his bidding, knowing all too well if they ever cross him, he’ll kill them.
Malkovich sets out a specific set of rules, and wouldn’t you know, Swin eventually breaks them, stirring up a sh*t storm that will be near impossible to clean up. All of this goes on without Frog’s knowledge. He’s semi-retired, and prefers to not have anyone kick up any dust that can cause alarm.
The whole film is played out in five “chapters,” making it feel a bit of an homage or lift from Tarantino. Even whole scenes feel like a nod to QT. But, Duke’s directing and storytelling style is not complimentary, it’s more obtuse and annoying, taking us out of the film and the life of the characters and their dilemmas. The film reaches a point halfway through that we just don’t care after (SPOILER ALERT) one of our favorite characters is offed. This leaves us hanging with the two least interesting characters, Kyle and Swin.
Other than interesting title credits, John Malkovich, Vince Vaughn and Vivica A. Fox, Arkansas is doomed to be just another turgid crime drama that lacks punch. The film is available on VOD, Prime and Redbox. It can also be found on the Walmart Black Friday shelves for a discounted price of $6.96. But, in my opinion, it’s not worth adding to your library.
Visit Ray’s blog at themonsterinmyhead.com
Directed by: Clark Duke
Release Date: May 5, 2020
Run Time: 117 min.