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Arkansas

Jun 15, 2020

A neo-noir with intellectual challenges and  post-modern detached heroes.

Arkansas

Grade: B

Director: Clark Duke (Hot Tub Time Machine)

Screenplay: Duke, Andrew Boonkrong

Cast: Liam Hemsworth (The Duel), Vince Vaughn (Hacksaw Ridge)

Runtime: 1h 57m

Rating: R

By: John DeSando

“A loose affiliation of deadbeats and scumbags” Kyle (Liam Hemsworth)

Dixie noir takes front and center in a drug scenario that could have used Coen Brothers coherence or Tarantino simplicity. Yet the film Arkansas is a complex web of wannabe hoodlums, seasoned bosses, innocent ladies. and very few outsiders. It’s a sealed world that moves drugs while its operatives figure out just who boss Frog is and who will survive.

The odd couple, Kyle and Swin (Clark Duke, who also directs), is doing a job orchestrated by the absent and unknown Frog (Vince Vaughn). Because Dixie Mafia Kyle is cool and Swin dorky (miscast Clark, who’s a better director than actor), their fates can be guessed as they maneuver the hoods inevitably attached to the dangerous business.

The brainy segment of the audience will delight determining who knows what and where the cash is, and the plot will tickle their detective skills. The rest of the audience can be relaxed like Kyle, remote and fearless, letting fate take its course while he figures out his life’s arc. Only once are we given a sassy smart character, Bright (John Malkovich), who takes over from Frog. Even Malkovich with his genetic sneer has dialogue unworthy of the master ironist.

The dark humor of the script is what keeps it all lighter than you’d think but never Tarantino comedic with its homely menace. When Her (Vivica A. Fox) says she likes boys like Kyle and Swin, “who don’t get hung up on having a long life,” the dark noir peeks through with an unfulfilled promise of bright banter to come.

Arkansas characters are not that witty or casually bright. Yet, when Vaughn appears the story crackles, and when Hemsworth gets a chance to philosophize, the better story gleams, but only for moments.

Clark is a talented director and writer. Whenever he again tells a dark tale of his home state, he should be ready to stand proudly by the Coens and Tarantino as his own voice, not just theirs in echo.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JohnDeSando62@gmail.com.