Director: Steven C. Miller
Cast: Adrian Grenier, Johnathon Schaech, Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Lydia Hull, Christopher Coppola, Megan Leonard, Tyler Jon Olson, Christopher Rob Bowen
MPAA Rating: (for brutal bloody violence, language throughout, and drug use)
Running Time: 1:32
Release Date: 1/6/17
Review by Mark Dujsik | January 6, 2017
Arsenal is not so much a movie as it is a concept of what certain people think a movie should have. It doesn't take elements and develop them in any way. The movie simply possesses them.
Since this is a story about a group of organized criminals, for example, the movie has a good amount of brutal violence, which is often shown in excruciatingly slow motion by director Steven C. Miller. It's excruciating not only because of what is being depicted—the blood erupts and bullets, including the scattershot of a shotgun, puncture body parts, which, in the case of the shotgun blast, include a henchman's crotch—but also because the violence seems to have little purpose. It's here simply because Miller and screenwriter Jason Mosberg believe that's what should be in a movie such as this one.
At best, the slow-motion aspect of the movie's violence is a clichéd style choice. At worst, it's the moral of the story—that violence in the right hands is a force for good. For the more skeptical, though, there's the thought that so much of these relatively brief moments are slowed down because they expand the movie's running time.
How else can one explain, as another example, a car chase that breaks out for no apparent reason? This is, after all, an action movie—or at least a movie that can be sold as "having action." A car chase is important in that mindset—even if said chase doesn't fit the rest of the movie, even if it does nothing special, even if it follows a foot chase that could move the plot forward just as well, even if all of these things turn the chase into the definition of perfunctory.
Of the story, it can also be said that it exists. Brothers JP (Adrian Grenier) and Mikey (Johnathon Schaech) grew up under tough conditions in Biloxi, Mississippi. After witnessing mob boss Eddie King (Nicolas Cage) murder a man in a back room of the local arcade, Mikey ended up on Eddie's payroll. JP took over mowing lawns for the neighbors.
Twenty-three years after this, JP runs a construction company, and Mikey, having been dishonorably discharged from the Marines, is trying to scrounge whatever money he can get in any way he can get it. This means buying a bag of cocaine with money that he borrows from his younger brother under false pretenses. The drugs are stolen. Mikey has a run-in with Eddie. Then JP receives a phone call from a man distorting his voice: He has Mikey, and he will only release him for $350,000.
Everybody knows that Eddie is holding Mikey for ransom. JP knows. His cop buddy Sal (John Cusack, who puts as much effort into the character as the character puts into helping JP during that chase scene—which is to say minimal to none) knows. Everyone with connections in town knows, and even the people who only have a vague understanding of the local criminal underworld know. The dramatic question—apart from the obvious one about JP rescuing his brother—is whether or not Mikey is involved as part of a scheme to repay Eddie.
The movie answers that question about five minutes after it's raised, meaning there's little intrigue to the straightforward plot. Even worse, the question seems to exist so that Mosberg can establish Mikey's only redeeming quality. The character, who's a screw-up in just about every conceivable way, earns JP's efforts because of a negative—basically, because he's not trying to rip off his brother (only in this particular instance, obviously, since we know Mikey did rip off JP just before being abducted).
Thus, the movie proceeds forward with its lackadaisical setups for action, characters whose lives don't even seem to matter amongst themselves, a plot that would need an extra step or two to be considered routine, and Cage's character—or, more specifically, the actor's performance—taking over large chunks of the movie. The reason for the last one is pretty clear: Cage is the only one who seems to give a damn about this. Then again, the way in which he gives a damn is questionable, considering the facts. He's recycling—and, in the process, resurrecting—a specific character he played over a decade ago, while still doing his generic manic shtick. He wears a wig and has a mustache that recalls Andy Kaufman's lounge-singer persona (Let's not ignore the prosthetic nose, either). He speaks as if his character is constantly in the process of developing lockjaw.
It's a weird performance, made even stranger by the drab movie surrounding it. It's something, at least, which is more than can be said about the rest of Arsenal.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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