ARSENAL (2017) review
written by: Jason Mosburg
produced by: George Furla
directed by: Steven C. Miller
rated: R (brutal bloody violence, language throughout, and drug use)
runtime: 92 min.
U.S. release date: January 6, 2016 (limited & VOD)
It’s bad enough when good actors seemingly disappear, but it’s downright depressing when these once noticeable talents resurface in movies that are consistently utter crap. The kind of movies that would never get rented back in the days of brick-and-mortar stores, where obscure titles would sit on a shelf and collect dust on their empty VHS case. The same kind you would find airing late at night on Cinemax back in the 90s, surprisingly headlined by a known actor. That’s the kind of movies Lionsgate Premiere have been plunking out in recent years, littering VOD menus and maybe showing up at one suburban theater. They’re usually crime movies with stock storylines, populated by a cast that’s been regurgitated by similar movies from the same studio, often helmed by the same director. That’s what’s happening with “Arsenal”, the first movie I’ve seen from the new year, which happens to be very bad and a complete waste of time.
Set in modern-day Biloxi (at least that’s where it was filmed), “Arsenal” follows the Lindel brothers, JP (Adrian Grenier “Entourage”) and Mikey (Johnathan Schaech), who grew up relying on each other when they were left to their own devices as children (the two roles are played by Kelton DuMont and Zachary Legendre, respectively) and are now separated by differing situations and life choices. JP has an infant with his wife, Lizzie (Lydia Hull) and manages a local construction company, while older brother Mikey is divorced, broke and is currently in over his head dealing cocaine. This business puts Mikey in a tough spot with sadistic crime boss, Eddie King (Nicolas Cage), resulting in him getting kidnapped and who’s ransom is sent to JP to deal with.
It’s assumed that Mikey is in on a scam with Eddie to make money off of JP from the kidnapping, but the younger brother knows that it’s up to him to save Mikey’s life, regardless. He’ll have to go at it alone, since he doesn’t have much support, not from his undercover detective friend, Sal (John Cusack) or his skeptical co-worker Gus (Tyler Jon Olson) and certainly not from Mikey’s own ex-wife, Vicki (Megan Leonard) and self-absorbed teen daughter (Abbie Gayle). Things come to inevitably violent head, as JP must plow his way through an endlessly assortment of Eddie’s trigger-happy goons in order to release Mikey and face off against both Eddie and his criminal brother, Buddy (Cage’s real-life brother, Christopher Coppola).
Directed by Steven C. Miller, who released “Marauders” last year, which featured many of the same actors that appear in “Arsenal”, minus Bruce Willis (whose silently laying his career to rest in movies with interchangeable plots and characters, such as “The Prince”, “Vice”, “Extraction” and “Precious Cargo”, often slumming it with the likes of 50 Cent), a regular at Lionsgate Premiere, which purchased Summit Entertainment. “Arsenal” is the full-length feature debut of screenwriter Jason Mosberg, who has basically cut and pasted together a script that is so pedestrian it’s even generous to call it ‘formulaic’. Miller’s soul concern is crossing off the checklist of your basic cable-ready action thriller. Beyond Mosberg’s banal storyline populated with white trash characters and well-intended rednecks, there’s a requisite car chase, jittery action, as well as a brutal final shootout complete with gratuitious bursts of blood and exploding heads.
Miller definitely isn’t concerned with delivering anything unique, interesting or redeeming here, which brings me back to the cast. All of these actors have been squandering in this active subgenre of crap crime and it’s painful to see someone like Cusack taking hack roles, which is something we expect from Cage, who relishes such gigs. But hey, these are adults who can say “no”, just as easily as they can say “yes”. Both Cusack and Cage are proven talents (you may recall Cage won an Oscar, long before taking any role that lands at his feet) and have have come a long way since sharing the screen in “Con-Air. Cage’s last good role was in 2013’s “Joe” and Cusack’s was in “Love & Mercy” back on 2014 and it seems like neither of them have been too picky since. Cusack spends most of his time hiding behind border patrol shades (like his character in the seldom-seen “Drive Hard”) and a ball cap or a do-rag, whereas Cage is resurrecting a bugnuts character he played in 1993’s seldom-seen crime thriller called “Deadfall“.
I caught up with “Deadfall”, directed by Coppola, immediately after viewing “Arsenal” to see if it would lend any context to Cage’s batty performance here and to see just how bad the direct-to-video release was. It couldn’t be that bad – along with Cage, it had Michael Biehn, James Coburn, Peter Fonda and Charlie Sheen. It was bad. Really bad. Awful story and terrible performances. Still, Cage in sunglasses and a bad wig, was a standout as Eddie King and clearly the most memorable part of the film. Seriously, just trying to figure out what he’s doing with his eyes, expressions and voice, is mind-boggling. It’s as disturbing as it is funny.
How it is that Cage is returning to this character (who actually died in “Deadfall” – spoiler alert- sorry/not sorry), 24 years later, is something I’d like to know. Is Eddie a personal favorite character of his, someone he always wanted to revisit? Did he just have his pick at any old character to choose from or did he just have a hankering to put on the bad wig, sunglasses and cheap prosthetic nose and do his raving Tony Clifton impression? Who knows or cares if we’ll ever truly know.
In recent years, there have been some quality movies released in January that have reversed the stigma of the month being a movie graveyard. “Arsenal” arrives here in the States on the first weekend of 2017 to reconfirm that January can still be the month where movies (and careers) go to die.