My grandpa was once put on trial in Arkansas for a murder he didn't commit. The news coverage during the trial is widely credited with giving Arkansas the backwards image that it has in the American imagination.
Anytime you give a movie a name like Arkansas, you are implying something. I recently rented and reviewed a movie named Addicted to Fresno. It was a horrid piece of crap that basically played on the backwards image of Fresno to gather laughs. I'm pretty sure that none of people in that movie had ever been to Fresno.
It's truly not that great looking of a place, but I've seen parts of Los Angeles and San Francisco that made Fresno look like Aspen in comparison. The people in Fresno are not the hicks that late night talk show hosts poke fun of for cheap laughs. I think those jokes only indicate that the hosts are really not quite as funny as they might think.
That's why it surprised me to find out that first time director Clark Duke, who also starred in and co-wrote the screenplay with Andrew Boonkrong, is from Arkansas. If I wrote a movie about my neck of the woods, I would show all the warts and blemishes too, but the viewer would walk out of the theater at least knowing how much I loved the place too.
That kind of love was missing in this movie, and it made all the difference in the world as it pretty much was a missing any kind of a heart as well.
The movie really doesn't give you any reason to care about it one way or the other. So you don't. The only reason to somewhat invest something of yourself in it is because of the female lead Johnna who is ably played by Eden Brolin. Johnna was a good character, a faint glimpse of innocence, someone you could care about about, and even she ended up in Kentucky.
The movie packed some star power with Liam Hemsworth, Vince Vaughn, Duke, his brother Chandler, Michael Kenneth Williams, Vivica A. Fox, Eden Brolin, and John Malkovich. All of them did commendable jobs including the director as one of the two male leads.
Duke's performance was one of the bright spots because his character, a low level drug dealer, had some depth to him. He was witty and the more socially adapted of the two. He had an annoying porn star mustache though. Hemsworth's character, another low level drug dealer, brusque to the point of rudeness, simply lacked depth. Kyle Ribb was as shallow as the water in a kiddie pool. There was some attempt to rescue him by some selfless actions at the end, but it was not only too little, too late; his decision to accept his fate as a drug dealer at the very end, marked him as a low rent Tony Soprano or Al Swearengen wannabe, while lacking the personality of either.
And in my opinion, there are way too many of these monstrous motherfuckers being pushed on us already.
Vaughn and Malkovich both gave credible performances, but their characters were also too emotionally lacking to be compelling.
It wasn't the acting that failed, however, it was the narrative. The storyline couldn't carry the weight that it was expected to carry. The slow pacing failed to create adequate suspense and when combined with the lack of humanity in the Hemsworth character, nobody seemed to care enough to make the audience care. It was one of those movies that kept you mildly interested but not so much so that you didn't take fifteen minutes to make a sandwich in the middle of it.
Maybe the script was trying to say something about how the hardness of life in Arkansas turns you into a soulless zombie or something to that effect, but it was like it really didn't want fully commit to that concept. The script spread its net too widely in that regard and basically said that whole American South is something of a snakepit with Oklahoma City being the worst.
The high point of the movie came when Duke's character Svenn chastises Johnna for her obsession with celebrity. He goes on a rant that exposes modern culture for what it truly is, a cheap distraction that causes us a lot of us to lose faith in our lives and to mass project our fears and shame in the form of zombie and purge movies. To be honest, that thought has crossed my mind more than few times.
All I got to say is, it ain't just Arkansas, Duke. And it's even less fair to not place more emphasis on Hollywood's role in such a mass projection. Unless, that was what you were trying to say in the first place. In that case, I was fooled by the title.