Arsenal

Arsenal is a thoroughly ugly, rather depraved movie that proves fetishizing violence isn't the same as exploring it. There's a lot to explore here, too, just from the location in which it is set being Biloxi, Mississippi, which means it could have easily been an examination of the post-Hurricane Katrina environment by way of blue-collar criminals and low-life mobsters in a small town. Screenwriter Josh Mosberg has no interest in such matters, however, merely exploiting the tensions between its characters by making each and every one of them unlikable in the extreme. No one is worthy of sympathy here, not even our hero and the supposed victim of a scheme to cheat him out of a six-figure cache of money. It's just another movie featuring slow-motion shots of violence juxtaposed against a backdrop of meanest poverty.

The point of sympathy here is meant to be JP's (Adrian Grenier) inability to produce $350,000 for the local mob boss when his brother Mikey (Johnathon Schaech), who has always been a thorn in his side, is apparently kidnapped, because Mikey has also apparently always been there for him in some vague way. It certainly isn't explicated by the prologue, in which Mikey shields JP's view of their uncle after his grisly suicide but in which Mikey is also kind of douche about loaning JP some quarters for the arcade. These details called back to later, because of course they are. Nothing here is subtle, especially the film's treatment of JP as a man with values and a wife and infant child. It's telling, though, how easily JP forgets about these good things in order to save a brother (with the help of John Cusack as Sal, whose existence amounts to a transitional device) who gets himself into a probably irreversible situation out of blatant selfishness.

That would be the kidnapping scheme, in which Mikey himself is involved after having lost a five-figure some of JP's money during a drug deal gone bad (Forget it, JP -- he's a lost cause). He's roped into it by Eddie King, a crime boss who is the closest thing to the mob in New Orleans. He is played by Nicolas Cage in a bizarre performance entirely built upon his physical appearance -- an unfortunate wig, a fake nose, and a physicality that fits the tone of an action-comedy, rather than the self-serious thing onscreen. Cage's character is also a reminder of the film's cruelty, such as in a disturbing encounter with his own brother Buddy (Christopher Coppola, who is also Cage's brother in real life, adding an even more disturbing layer on top of the disturbing layer already there) or in his enjoyment of torturing Mikey on occasion.

The violence here is savage, but there's no point to any of it. Director Steven C. Miller uses slow-motion to such an ostentatious degree that, at some point, he isn't capturing action onscreen as much as random movement (a character walking toward the camera with a gun, another getting shot in the least opportune place to get shot, and so forth). The style quickly outweighs the material here, though, no more so than in a pitiful climax that doesn't amount to much more than random bursts of violence (an exploding head, another headshot at point-blank range) that exist for their own sake. The relevance of the plot, meanwhile, is called into question by the operating nature of the villains (specifically, whether a real kidnapping, let alone a staged one, would even happen under this criminal regime), but the film has no patience to deal with logic. Arsenal is merely thoughtless and mean-spirited.

Film Information

Adrian Grenier (JP), Johnathon Schaech (Mikey), Nicolas Cage (Eddie King), Lydia Hull (Lizzie), Christopher Coppola (Buddy King), Megan Leonard (Vicki), Christopher Rob Bowen (Rob), Tyler Jon Olson (Gus), Shea Buckner (Rusty), John Cusack (Sal).

Directed by Steven C. Miller and written by Josh Mosberg.

Rated R (brutal bloody violence, language throughout, drug use).

92 minutes.

Released in select cities on January 6, 2017.

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