Arkansas is a pretty bog-standard Southern neo-noir movie with a couple of memorable names in it. It’s based on a first novel by John Brandon, which is sort of a crappier Joe R. Lansdale story. Lansdale is the great Texas writer whose work Bubba Ho-Tep was based on, as well as Cold In July, which is a much better story about this kind of thing.
The story revolves around these redneck bozos who get involved in drug dealing, and it all goes horribly wrong. Kyle (Liam Hemsworth – the less talented Hemsworth brother) is the main character, who is working for kingpin Frog along with Swin (Clark Duke). Kyle is a bit smarter than Swin. Neither of them have actually met Frog. Of course, the cops are in business with Frog as well—John Malkovich appears here as a cop, doing a really bad accent. It’s sad to see an actor of this calibre doing one of the laziest, goofiest performances I’ve ever seen him turn in. That’s been the case for Malkovich for a while recently, maybe he just doesn’t give a fuck at this point.
As a film, Arkansas is pretty generic—you’ve seen similar stories done better. There are some decent actors, including Michael Kenneth Williams, although he doesn’t have much to do here. It’s perfectly fine, but they probably could have cut it by about 20 minutes. There’s some unnecessary flashback stuff—It probably would have been much better as a lean, 90-minute movie. You totally get why it was one of the first films to be quickly sold to Lionsgate and relegated to a DVD/VOD release after the Coronavirus epidemic hit. It’s nothing special, but if you like a Southern-fried noir tale, it’s watchable. The cast is decent—Vince Vaughan, who plays Frog, has been trying to do more serious stuff recently, maybe he’s just getting too old to do the comedy crap that he’s been doing for years. He’s meant to be 30 years younger in the flashbacks, though, and that really doesn’t work.
Weirdly enough, the Flaming Lips do the soundtrack, and they even appear in the film as well. The plot is perhaps a bit overwritten, but it’s competently shot. That said, it was a film that really wasn’t going to play cinemas, especially in the UK, where a lot of smaller movies—especially crime, action and horror movies—will only be seen on the big screen at a festival. Sometimes they don’t even get a DVD or Blu-Ray release, and if relegated to DVD, it’ll be as a relatively vanilla release found in the supermarket with a generic cover and maybe a generic retitle. This isn’t one of those—it has not been retitled, and the disc does feature a director’s commentary, a making-of featurette and deleted scenes.