Recommendation: It’s not too deep but it’s also not too terrible. Don’t expect much from the destination and you’ll enjoy the journey fine enough. 6/10.
IMDB Synopsis: Kyle and Swin live by the orders of an Arkansas-based drug kingpin named Frog, whom they’ve never met. But when a deal goes horribly wrong, the consequences are deadly.
Arkansas is a little heralded film that quietly made its debut during quarantine on Amazon Prime’s streaming service. The directorial feature debut of comedic actor Clark Duke, Arkansas is a down home, Southern tale about drug running, self starter-ness, and making the most of a bad situation. Featuring significant billing for a small, quiet release, the movie is part noir, part buddy comedy, and part Ozark-lite. Clarke Duke pulls double duty here, shining a bit more as an actor than first time director, yet the effort is not without its merits. With a supporting—and famous—cast of colorful characters, Arkansas is at its best when it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Kyle (Liam Hemsworth) and Swin (Clark Duke), are two small time drug runners. Not glamorous, not ambitious, and certainly not that smart, the duo find themselves working for Park Ranger Bright (John Malkovich), an eccentric middleman in the drug ecosystem. All of them roll up under Frog (Vince Vaughn), the mysterious drug kingpin who’d rather lord over his odds’n’ends shop than an empire. Of course, things go awry for our intrepid duo, who are followed home from a pickup. The resulting aftermath is two bodies, a bunch of cash, and an f’d up Arkansas drug ecosystem.
Rather than linear storytelling, Arkansas is told in chapters. We get the backstory on Kyle and Swin, a backstory on how Frog came to power, and then how all the storylines converge. You can see the influence of a filmmaker like Tarantino on Clarke Duke, yet it’s more imitation than pastiche. That’s not to say the film isn’t a good freshman effort, with some genuinely fun performances, decent dialogue (written by Duke’s hand) and a little grittiness to the brutal action sequences.
The film does get a little lost and ultimately doesn’t take the viewer very far, relying on well-worn tropes and a little too much of Liam Hemsworth’s tough guy, liner attitude. But the film is enjoyable enough, and the cast alone is worth the price of admission (free).
Find it here on Amazon Prime.
MVP: John Malkovich as the delightfully gleeful Park Ranger Bright. Close second goes to the naive yet tough Johnna played by Eden Brolin.
Highlights: the aforementioned fight scenes are brutal and raw. Clark Duke’s smart ass humor is a nice juxtaposition to the Southern setting. Vivica A. fox’s cameo.
Director: Clark Duke
Studio: Lionsgate Release date: May 5, 2020 (Amazon)