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Thread: ARKANSAS (Clark Duke 2020)

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    ARKANSAS (Clark Duke 2020)

    CLARK DUKE: ARKANSAS (2020)



    Home disappointment

    Yesterday I talked about Anthony Lane of The New Yorker half jokingly talking in his latest review about how "hugs," "handshakes," and "going out for a drink" now seem like strange things, and paying to sit in a darkened theater with other people in uncomfortable seats to see a movie. He was talking about what a different world we're living in now under the global pandemic shutdown. He has some observations about the difference between home and theater movie-watching, and observes that a thriller gets tamed at home; that if you hit the Pause button on one, when you come back from the kitchen "the thrills will die on you." I set out to examine that notion by reviewing True History of the Kelly Gang, the thriller Lane talks about in his review, and then Arkansas, the comedy crime movie he thinks represents a genre works better in home viewing.

    I frankly wanted to challenge Lane's claims, and this is the second part of my argument. Yesterday I talked about Justin Kurzel's eccentric, striking Kelly gang film, which stars George MacKay, whom we saw last year in 1917. I think True History may indeed inevitably be diminished in power on a small screen from its effect on a big one. But for me it clearly has grandeur and power to spare. It remained an exciting watch on my desktop 22-inch screen.

    Arkansas is another new pay-for-view online release. But it's not the best example for Lane to use of how comedies may fare better in home viewing than thrillers. Unlike the at worst very decent True History of the Kelly Gang, it's evident that Arkansas just is not a successful crime comedy. It mimics such a movie. It alludes to such a movie. It is not one.

    The action in this Elmore Leonard-style story never quite comes together. It focuses on Kyle (Liam Hemsworth) and Swin (director and cowriter Clark Duke), two drug runners out of the state of Arkansas working under a man called Frog (Vince Vaughan), whose identity is unknown to them. Their supervisor becomes Bright (John Malkovich), a park ranger, who makes them work at boring jobs in the park between runs throughout the South. We also meet Almond (Michael Kenneth Williams) and another mysterious higher-up known only as Her (Vivica A. Fox. Malkovich is always fun to watch, interesting as almost a doofus here, such a contrast to the kind of evil powerhouse he does so well in - to name a favorite of mine - Liliana Cavani's Ripley's Game. Michael Kenneth Williams is cool and flavorful, and so is Vivica A. Fox. But most of our time is spent with Hemsworth, Duke, and Vaughan.

    Somewhat inexplicably, since he's a dumpy, homely little fellow with long hair and a wispy mustache, just I guess because this is Clark Duke's movie, early in the action Swin meets a pretty girl called Johnna (Eden Brolin, daughter of Josh) who immediately agrees to a date with him, goes to bed with him, gets pregnant by him, and is ready to marry him. Opinions vary on whether Liam Hensworth is ever convincing in a role, though some say he's at his best here. As for Vaughan, he seems to be largely phoning in his performance this time.

    The character of Frog is a problem in the organization of the film. Though for most of the way Swin and Kyle don't see him, he's threaded through the action in flashbacks that trace his origins in what we're told is the messy, disorganized world of southern drug dealing back to the eighties. This is not a Pulp Fiction style riff where we delight in the distraction because it's so rich and entertaining. It's a little on the perfunctory side.

    Swin's relationship with Johnna of course has nothing to do with the crime plot. It's one of those subplots where the woman gets drawn into the action, sees a crime, and then is told, "You're one of us now." She's a passive and inexplicable female character.

    A light tone is maintained and Vaughan is always good at seeming not to give a damn. But he seems a little weary here, and a drawback of the filming is that he looks just as old in his eighties sequences as in the contemporary ones.

    I liked what Katie Walsh of The Chicago Tribune says in her review, that this doesn't break the mold on
    "cheeky, stylish, lowlife movies" but merely "worships it." She grants that Clark provides us with at least the "surface pleasures of this genre," including cinematography that's "artful" by Stephen Meizler. But Walsh goes on to say that as the film enters the second half of its "wholly unnecessary" two-hour run, "you start to wonder" why the "structure" is so "chopped and screwed" and why it needed the "vanity chapter titles" (they indeed add nothing) and the "parallel storylines" that merely "sometimes randomly" mesh. Though he claims the characters are "gratifyingly dim," even Lane admits the action is "physically nastier than it needs to be." It makes it hard to keep the laughs going.

    Clark, who's known for TV, and seems to have some well-placed friends, judging by the cast and music, may have a future in movie-making, we'll see. But that this illustrates the greater pleasures of comedy over action thrillers in home viewing cannot be claimed. Maybe I've read too much Elmore Leonard, and watched too much Tarantino. But my standards are higher than this. Other responses may differ. I like the poster.

    Arkansas, 117 mins., had no premiere, and came out in many countries in DVD and on the internet on May 5. Metascrore 56%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-17-2020 at 10:18 AM.

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