'Arsenal': Film Review
Stephen C. Miller’s Mississippi-set drama stars Adrian Grenier and Johnathon Schaech as brothers targeted by Nicolas Cage’s diabolical crime boss.
While deploying an action-pulp armory of slo-mo slaughter and hard-slamming brutality, the crime thriller Arsenal also taps into primal matters of brotherly loyalty and betrayal. The brothers — one straight-arrow, one ne’er-do-well — are played by Adrian Grenier and Johnathon Schaech, digging into two-dimensional roles with conviction. The key attraction, though, if you find sadistic maniacs entertaining, is Nicolas Cage in full-throttle wacko regalia.
Director Steven C. Miller shot Arsenal in two weeks. With a cast that also includes John Cusack and Cage’s real-life brother, Christopher Coppola, the key takeaway is that some screen vets welcome the opportunity to dip into quick-and-dirty genre work. Bruce Willis toplined Marauders, the previous release by Miller, who has made nine features since 2012.
The screenplay by first-timer Jason Mosberg is an unremarkable retread of well-worn crime-movie tropes. Its action revolves around JP Lindel (Grenier), a hardworking family man, and his older brother, Mikey (Schaech) — divorced and broke, black-market transactions his fallback. A bad business decision involving cocaine puts Mikey in the crosshairs of his former employer/protector/surrogate father, crime boss Eddie King (Cage, adorned with noticeably enhanced schnoz and purposely atrocious wig).
An opening sequence set at a turning point in the siblings’ troubled youth reveals the depth of the bond, as well as the divide, between boys who were left to their own devices (the youthful Mikey and JP are played, respectively, by Zachary Legendre and Kelton DuMont). This prologue also delights in the gruesome fact that Mikey first encounters the deranged Eddie, mid-murder, in a plastic-sheathed torture chamber near a kids’ arcade.
When the grown-up JP, who has all the requisite good-guy yadda-yadda — construction business, infant child, wife (Lydia Hull) who says grace — receives a ransom demand for his brother, at first he’s the only one to take the threat seriously. Most everyone who knows the involved parties assumes that Mikey partnered with Eddie on a scam to fleece JP. Among the skeptics are undercover detective Sal (John Cusack), his colleague Gus (Tyler Jon Olson) and Mikey’s ex-wife, Vicki (Megan Leonard), with whom he shares only vitriol and a noncommunicative teen daughter (Abbie Gayle).
The film teases out the question of Mikey’s complicity, and there’s a modicum of intrigue over whether his kidnapping is fake. Along the way, Miller and photography director Brandon Cox make good use of the Biloxi locations, from backyard barbecues to a minor league baseball game at MGM Park — although the requisite screeching-wheels car chase is shot in the thick of night and less than thrilling. But it’s all just lead-up to the main event, a small-town apocalyptic showdown, aka a shoot-out between good and evil. Ratcheting up Eddie’s malevolence in ways large and small, Cage delivers the latest installment in his singularly unfettered brand of over-the-top screen madness.
The mayhem escalates with Coppola’s appearance as Eddie’s brother, whose friendly moniker, Buddy, is entirely misleading. Miller orchestrates the final crescendo of bloodletting by indulging in a jokey, ultra-slow-motion ballet of shotgun pellets, spurting arteries and exploding skulls. He accomplishes what he set out to do, but it’s all been done before.
Distributor: Lionsgate Premiere
Production companies: Grindstone Entertainment Group, Emmett Furla Oasis Films, Ingenious Media, River Bay Films, Tinker Productions
Cast: Adrian Grenier, Johnathon Schaech, Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Lydia Hull, Christopher Coppola, Megan Leonard, Christopher Rob Bowen, Tyler Jon Olson, Shea Buckner, Abbie Gayle, Zachary Legendre, Kelton DuMont
Director: Steven C. Miller
Screenwriter: Jason Mosberg
Producers: Randall Emmett, George Furla
Executive producers: Marc Goldberg, Mark Stewart, Wayne Marc Godfrey, Robert Jones, Steven Saxton, Vance Owen, Ted Fox, Barry Brooker, Stan Wertlieb
Director of photography: Brandon Cox
Production designer: Niko Vilaivongs
Costume designer: Rachel Stringfellow
Editor: Vincent Tabaillon
Composers: Ryan Franks, Scott Nickoley
Rated R, 92 minutes