Raising Arizona (1987), or The Passion Of The Goodman

11 09 2009

The world has a funny way of bringing two people together who should never have had any contact with one another. It’s both startling coincidence and statistical inevitability, and I can’t even believe it sometimes, but it is 199% fact that my favorite directors, the Coen Brothers, made a movie with my sworn enemy, Nicolas Cage. And it wasn’t half bad; hell, it wasn’t any bad. It was pretty damn good. I don’t know how or why it happened, and I won’t begrudge the movie in the slightest, but I will merely say that Nicolas Cage is a very, very lucky man.

In the teeming cesspool known as Arizona, a young convict named Herbert (or Hi) recently released from jail after some criminal misadventures, decides to propose to a policewoman that he quite fancies at the station he frequents. The policewoman, known as Ed, accepts, finding Hi to be intriguing. They move out into the Arizona desert, with a quaint mobile home and an eye for children in the future. But things become complicated when they find that Ed is infertile. They cannot adopt either, due chiefly to Hi’s felonious ways. Yet Hi is determined to get a child for he and his lady love, so he does the only thing that seems logical to him; he steals a baby. His target; the local big-wig furniture store owner, Nathan Arizona (???), who recently had quintuplets, his reasoning being that they have enough children to not miss one of them. They pull off the baby heist, but as soon as they do, a plethora of other problems assault them. Hi’s old prison buddies begin to visit him and he starts falling into old habits, problems with Hi’s pig of a boss at work, and a frightening bounty hunter hears word of a reward for returning the baby and begins to track the family. And that’s just the beginning of the troubles for these two down-on-their-luck lovebirds, who might have bitten off more than they can chew.

Raising Arizona is a well-made film that leaves all the big choices to the directors. The actors and the locations are chess pieces for the Coens, who had neither the time, the budget, nor perhaps the inclination to dispense with giving the actors free reign. It seems unimaginably manicured and lovely for a movie made under $5 million, which by 1987 was a pretty awesome feat. I imagine that they had the whole movie mapped out completely by the time it came to shoot, because it doesn’t have the unmistakable vibe of anyone else’s hands on this work, as if it were shot and conceived entirely in their heads alone.

From this ensemble, one person really separates himself from the rest of the herd. John Goodman, YET AGAIN, gives me the intense honor of watching him act. He cracks me up as possible one of the funniest characters he’s played, a convict on the lamb named Gale Snoats. He’s a character, to say the least, and while he’s not as abrasive as Walter in The Big Lebowski or as lovable as Dilbert in Arachnophobia, he meets us in an extremely happy middle as a crazed criminal with a penchant for being a little pig-headed, a little dumb, and a little confused. At a robbery, he tells everyone to both freeze and get down on the ground. Oops! Awkward! In the famous “diaper robbery” scene, his friend Evelle gets some balloons and he asks him mid hold-up if they blow up into fun animal shapes! Real nice! Everyone else plays their part, although Holly Hunter is kind of abrasive to my aesthetic sensibility (aka I find her acting repulsive) and Nic Cage does his usual job to piss me off as often as he possible can.

Everyone has a favorite scene with this movie; what’s yours? If I had to narrow it down to two, I’d say either the dream sequence with the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse, or when Gale first comes back from prison to catch up with Hi. The Lone Biker scene was just impeccably well-choreographed and handled, and it made the actual meeting between he and the bounty hunter more interesting. And the first time Hi sees Gale again is just awesome. Gale walks in like he owns the place and starts haranguing Hi and Ed with questions and snark. When Gale starts asking about breast-feeding, I did a mini spit-take!

I really dug this little piece of Southwestern redneck life called Raising Arizona. It’s undoubtedly one of the lightest Coen Brothers movies out there, but also one of the most stylized and director-centric. I especially enjoyed that touch, especially because it means that although Cage, by some fluke, got a role in a good movie like this, his impact on it was minimal, like any good chess piece should only be a piece of a larger unit. Sure, it’s low on substance, but for a comedy that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just let this one wash over you like baby formula, and you’ll have yourself a rip-roaring time! I give Raising Arizona 8 1/2 Lone Bikers of the Apocalypse out of 10!

Tomorrow is another surprise-filled weekend! You’ll be sure to get a review tomorrow, I just don’t know what it is yet! Keep checking back often! Until then!