Review: Clark Duke's directorial debut 'Arkansas' sizzles

Posted May 05,2020 - 02:35 PM

Clark Duke has one of those faces that is instantly recognizable, but a name that fails to instantly make a facial connection. I can't tell you how many times I was trying to recall his name when I'd say, "you know, the funny, nerdy guy that is in all of those hilarious films?"

Usually, this is met with deserved condemnation and confusion by those around me, but his name won't be secret for long thanks to his directorial debut, Arkansas.

Liam Hemsworth and Clark Duke are low-level drug mules for a local kingpin named Frog, whom they have never met. As they go about their lives undercover as junior park rangers, the two bumbling friends find themselves ascending the rungs of the ladder of the drug operation without realizing it. As a showdown with Frog looms on the horizon, will they figure out their predicament before it's too late?

I have been eagerly looking forward to this film because even though I can't always remember Clark Duke's name, I always enjoy his work. He compiled an amazing cast and the synopsis was intriguing to say the least.

When you think mob or drug films, you immediately think of bigger population centers like New York or Miami. The last place that you'd center a drug film would probably be Arkansas, but that's what makes this movie so intriguing. It's like a drug film out of water and they don't miss an opportunity to milk it for all of the laughs they can.

And yet, Arkansas is much more than a compilation of pratfalls and stereotypes. It is a multi-generational story of illicit crimes in a small subsection of the country that has, until recently, flown under the radar in Hollywood. Usually, if you spend any time in the South, it's to get a few quick laughs during a road trip to somewhere else. But, the times are changing.

As anyone who has fallen in love with the Netflix show Ozark can tell you, this relatively unexplored area of the United States is increasingly becoming a Hollywood hotbed. As someone who has lived in the South for over 20 years now, I can see the attraction as the area is definitely one that is ripe for both celebrating Americana and poking fun at its eccentricities.

It is in this fertile ground that Arkansas has set his film (well, technically author John Brandon set it there) and the results are spectacular. First and foremost, Duke has taken a bold risk in his choices for co-lead Swin, a part that he himself has brought to life. As an actor, Clark Duke is pretty interesting, but he has gotten a bit typecast lately. In Arkansas, he throughs all conventions out the window with Swin and his performance is one for the ages.

Swin looks like a slimy reject from an early '90s rave and his pencil-thin mustache alone is enough to give you nightmares for weeks. And yet, there is an endearing side to Swin that Duke is able to leverage for some of the film's most tender moments. As unconventional as Swin and Johanna's relationship is, it is also a very real American story that really tugs at the heartstrings as the film plays out.

Of course, no review of Arkansas would be complete without mentioning the powerful twin towers of acting excellence that are Vince Vaughn and John Malkovich. As Park Ranger Bright, Malkovich crafts another quirky, memorable character that quickly becomes one of his best performances.

Vince Vaughn, on the other hand, has been out of the limelight lately and his career really could use the jumpstart that Arkansas should give him. While the shuttering of megaplexes across the country prevented the movie from getting any semblance of a theatrical release, it should find a ravenous audience on home entertainment. What they will find is one of Vaughn's best performances to date as drug kingpin Frog and his story is every much a part of Arkansas as Kyle and Swin's tale.

Ultimately, Arkansas is a film that burns as slow as the passing of time in the laidback South. And yet, this measured pacing is perfect for a film that has as much to say about the culture of the old South as it does the drug trade. If you're looking for a quirky drug culture film set in the deep South, then Arkansas will completely fit the bill.

Arkansas is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.