The Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, get this. Like celluloid Micheners, their impressive body of work reaches deep into American settings, from post-war Hollywood to '50s New York, from late '80s Minnesota to early '90s Santa Monica. But it really hit its stride in Arizona.
Raising Arizona, the Coens' follow-up to their excellent debut Blood Simple, is an explosively clever and riotously funny exploration of fertility, homemaking, and the working class in the prisons and trailer parks of the desert southwest.
The fun begins when career petty criminal H.I. McDunnough (Nicolas Cage) meets local cop "Ed" (Holly Hunter) while having his mugshot taken. When H.I. gets paroled, he and Ed marry but find themselves unable to conceive. Hungering for a simple family life, H.I. gives up the gone-straight life to steal one of a furniture tycoon's quintuplets, but soon finds an apocalyptic bounty hunter on his tail. Meanwhile, two of H.I.'s jail buddies (John Goodman and William Forsythe) seek refuge with the new family man after busting out of the joint and tug at H.I.'s loyalties.
The Coens' dialogue is snappy and quirky without devolving into Hal Hartley-style absurdity, and the screenplay also famously features one of the worst Polish jokes ever uttered. Joel Coen's skillful direction and attention to detail - including a intricate, hilarious chase scene involving police cars, a pack of pissed-off dogs, and a stolen case of diapers - foreshadow a decade of precise and whimsical filmmaking (including three immensely popular cultural touchstones: Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and O Brother, Where Art Thou?).
As the sad-sack recidivist, Cage brings an understated offbeat-ness. He staggers through his performance like a pre-coffee insomniac, riffing existential self-putdowns that contrast Hunter's volatile momma cravings. The only disappointment is that Cage decided to spend his considerable gifts becoming Hollywood's everyman action star. Representing H.I.'s darker temptations, Goodman is fabulously funny in the first of his four roles for the Coens (the finest performances of his career that didn't involve him sharing a bed with Roseanne Barr/Arnold).
Loaded with desert-dry laughs, monstrous personalities, and reluctant life lessons, Raising Arizona holds up as one of the shining comedies of the 1980s. You'll never look at a pack of Huggies the same way again.
Run time: 94 mins
In Theaters: Friday 17th April 1987
Box Office Worldwide: $29.2M
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Production compaines: Circle Films
Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Fresh: 45 Rotten: 5
IMDB: 7.4 / 10
Director: Joel Coen
Producer: Ethan Coen
Starring: Nicolas Cage as H.I. McDunnough, Holly Hunter as Edwina 'Ed' McDunnough, Trey Wilson as Nathan Arizona Huffhines, Sr., John Goodman as Gale Snoats, William Forsythe as Evelle Snoats, Sam McMurray as Glen, Frances McDormand as Dot, Randall as Leonard Smalls, T.J. Kuhn as Nathan Arizona, Jr., Lynne Kitei as Florence Arizona
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