Arizona Dream
Warner Archives // R // $19.95 // March 16, 2010
Review by Nick Hartel | posted April 24, 2010
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A lost Johnny Depp film co-starring Faye Dunaway, Lili Taylor, Vincent Gallo and Jerry Lewis, should have been a film fan's treat. Instead, Emir Kusturica's, "Arizona Dream" proves to be 119 minutes of stellar performances attached to sequences that vary from brilliant to infuriatingly pointless. The version of the film presented here by Warner is 23 minutes shorter than the initial release, but I highly doubt those 23 minutes could do anything to save this mess and provide any semblance of coherency.

Depp is Axel, your typical quirky free spirit, a fish counter by trade, who hits the road with his cousin, Paul (Gallo) to visit Leo (Lewis), his used car salesman of an uncle. Once the duo arrive in Arizona for Leo's wedding to a traumatized young woman, Axel, at the insistence of his uncle tries his hand at the salesman trade. Thirty minutes of tedious set-up into "Arizona Dream" and Axe encounters Grace (Taylor) and her stepmother Elaine (Dunaway).

What follows are bizarre sequences of Axel and Elaine, who instantly fall in lust with each other, building equally bizarre flying contraptions that were all proven to fail centuries ago. Conflict is provided by Grace, a chain-smoking, accordion playing, turtle raising, suicidal free spirit in her own right. It's painfully obvious Grace and Axel are meant for each other, but the film drags this tension out far too long, and when the film's conclusion comes, the shift in tone is so abrupt, the viewer's investment in the preceding nonsense has been utterly wasted. Kusturica at times appears to battle with finding the film's voice, plainly evident by Grace's suicidal tendencies. One moment she attempts to hang herself, resulting in a darkly comic failure that is clearly meant to invoke laughter. Later on, she and Axel play Russian Roulette in one of the film's most intense and finely acted scenes. The problem is, each scene feels like it belongs in a separate film.

Axel's surreal dreams are obviously meant to serve as a thematic backbone to the film, but are so vague and obtuse that one can't decipher the meaning of the film (if it has one at all) with one viewing. The only aspect that saves "Arizona Dream" from being an utter disaster of Tommy Wiseau proportions are the performances. Everyone brings their A-game, especially Dunaway, who sells her performances as an older free spirit, not knowing what she wants any more than her newly found, younger object of infatuation. Jerry Lewis' few scenes appear to highlight his natural talents, as more than once, he appears to be improvising dialogue to keep a scene moving. This isn't the zany Lewis of the 50s and 60s, but the more serious, Lewis of his "King of Comedy" role.

If one can endure all of "Arizona Dream" they will be treated to some standout sequences, the aforementioned Russian Roulette sequence springs to mind, as does a mid-movie diversion to a talent show, where Paul recreates the crop-duster sequences from "North by Northwest" live on stage. I am hesitant to say the film's final act is the most cohesive, because, I still feel robbed by an ending that is a true curveball. Ultimately, the only constantly rewarding aspect of the movie is Goran Bregovic's score. Assisted at times by vocals from Iggy Pop, the score sets the film's "quirky" tone and easily moves to more serious and almost ethereal themes later on. It's a score that deserves to be in a better movie.


The Video

The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation captures the heat and desolation of the desert quite competently. Grain levels vary from aesthetically pleasing to full-on, heavy noise, particularly in the film's opening sequence set in the arctic. Stock footage from "North by Northwest" looks like a disaster compared to that film's official DVD release. Color levels are for the most part adequate, although some sequences vary from scene to scene with skin tones looking warmer at times than necessary; contrast levels fare much better. Detail is strong but not outstanding.

The Audio

The English 2.0 audio faithfully reproduces the Goran Bregovic soundtrack with necessary life and clarity. Dialogue is cleanly reproduced but often overpowered by the music. It's a passable stereo track, but lacking compared to stereo tracks of many older films.

The Extras

The lone extra is the film's trailer.

Final Thoughts

A notable failure of a movie, "Arizona Dream" is worth seeking out only to give credit to the cast's solid effort. Kusturica's narrative appears far beyond salvation, a surreal mess that may very well have some sort of soulful punch line. Unfortunately, even the most obtuse movie speaks to the viewer on the initial viewing; "Arizona Dream" would really like to tell you about love and life, but, like a child learning to speak, doesn't know what it's saying. Unless you're a huge fan of the cast, Skip It.

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