Raising Arizona (1987)

31 Jan

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Where did a comedy like “Raising Arizona” come from? This movie is all over the map and to call the comedy offbeat would be an understatement—everyone in this movie is either foolish or insane, the screenplay’s dialogue for the characters is quirkily poetic, and it’s hard to figure whether it takes place in reality or another dimension (though I’m close to picking the latter). But I loved this movie mainly because it’s consistent—consistently funny and crazy.

In a 13-minute pre-opening credit sequence that is pure montage and narration, we meet our main characters—an ex-convict named H.I. “Hi” McDonough (Nicolas Cage) and his wife Edwina “Ed” (Holly Hunter), who takes police mug shots. Actually, in a funny twist, that’s how they met. Hi meets Ed as she takes his pictures when he’s first convicted. Then the second time he’s convicted, he notices some sadness in her life and begins to charm her. Then the third time he’s convicted, he actually proposes to her. (You see, Hi has a tendency to rob convenience stores, which always lands him in jail.) When Hi is released, again, he decides to start a clean wife and actually marries Ed. They live in a trailer out in the boonies, near a small town in Arizona. They want to have a child, but can’t because Ed can’t conceive and adoption is out of the question since Hi is a repeatedly-convicted ex-felon. But then they hear of popular furniture dealer Nathan Arizona’s newly-born quintuplets and decide that that’s too much for him and wife to handle, so…they decide to borrow one of them.

Sheesh, so much story put into the first thirteen minutes, before the credits appear. But I thought it was quite enjoyable because of how it never seemed to stop. With Hi’s “poetic” voiceover narration of the sequence and just the over-the-top delivery of the characterizations of Hi and Ed make for a zany experience that I quite enjoyed. And that sets the tone for the rest of the movie, which is equally zany.

For example, the following scene is in which Hi sneaks into the babies’ room to steal one of them. He inspects them all to see which one seems right, and they all run (or crawl) amok around the room, while Hi tries to control them while also attempting not to make any noise while Arizona is downstairs. The wide-angle shots, low-angles, and closeups add to the wackiness of a situation that…to tell the truth, could be very disturbing. Somehow Nicolas Cage makes “baby-stealing” seem less creepy. It’s strange.

Another overly-executed sequence is when Hi and Ed go to a convenience store to buy the baby (whom they call “Junior”) a pack of Huggies. The big mistake Ed makes is letting Hi go in while she stays in the car with the baby. Of course Hi robs the clerk, and this leads to a chase scene that is…well, not boring. Madness ensues during the chase, as Hi goes through streets, backyards, and a supermarket while being chased by the crazed clerk, armed police, and even a pack of snarling dogs!

“Raising Arizona” was the second movie written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, who obviously know how to make exciting movies. They certainly showed that in their debut film, “Blood Simple,” a completely different film than this one. They use unique camera angles and quirky characters to tell their stories, and the results are quite effective.

All of the characters in “Raising Arizona” are memorable. Nicolas Cage’s Hi is charmingly dangerous with some sincerity in him, Holly Hunter’s Ed is ultimately stubborn to the point where she seems somewhat psychotic, Trey Wilson’s Arizona is suitably flamboyant, and then there are these folks—two escaped convicts (John Goodman and William Forsythe) who are dumb as posts, Hi’s boss Glen (Sam McMurray) who gladly tells bad joke after bad joke, and Glen’s perky wife (Frances McDormand). They’re all enjoyable to watch and the Coen Brothers cast game actors who really go for it with their roles. I should also mention that their dialogue is not normal. These rural folks all talk like they’re in a Shakespearean play, with countryside jokes put in for good measure. How weird is that?

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention Randall “Tex” Cobb as Hell’s Angel type who may be just a bounty hunter, but Hi describes him as a demonic being who rides on his motorcycle with a blaze trail following. He becomes an important asset to the story when Arizona hires him to get the baby back. This subplot is very silly, to tell the truth, but it’s also a lot of fun and as wacky as the rest of the movie.

“Raising Arizona” is a weird, preposterous and yet mostly hilarious and well-put-together offbeat comedy with a lot of material, aided by flashy camera work and eccentric characters. It’s weird, goofy to say the least, and very entertaining.

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