Raising Arizona, A
Rated R, 94 minutes
This is the first of my "Classic Film Series" in which I look back at a classic film. I'm happy that one of the first suggestions was a classic and one of my favorites, the Coen Bros' (Joel and Ethan Coen) hilarious, heartfelt comedy "Raising Arizona," released back in 1987 - hard to believe it's been 30 years. A modest hit at the time, it has since achieved cult status and is often ranked as the best film of the Coen Bros, which is saying something given all the great films they've made over the years, including "Fargo," "No Country for Old Men" and the one many others rank as their favorite, "The Big Lebowski." However, upon an additional viewing of "Raising Arizona," the first for me in some time, I'd have to rank it ahead of "Lebowski" but maybe still behind the chilling "No Country."
An ex-con named Hi (Nicolas Cage) and an ex-cop Edwina, or Ed (Holly Hunter) meet, marry and long for a child of their own. When it is discovered that they are unable to have children they decide to snatch a baby from a couple who've had quintuplets. They try to keep their crime a secret, while those around them, including two of Hi's former colleagues (William Forsythe and John Goodman) and a bounty hunter named Leonard Smalls (wrestler Randall "Tex" Cobb) look to use the child for their own purposes.
Directed by Joel Coen and co-written Joel and Ethan Coen, "Raising Arizona" is really two stories: a tender love story of a couple (Cage and Hunter, a perfect pairing) and a rambunctious crime caper, told with purposeful Southern charm and sympathetic appeal by the Coen's, who wanted something lighter in their second feature film after their dark, breakout hit "Blood Simple" a few years earlier. Whether funny or extremely dark, the Coen's are usually over-the-top, and "Raising Arizona" is so funny because it's so over-the-top zany.
It's nice seeing Cage in one of his earliest roles, so young, lean, edgy and a sharp comic edge; it's almost sad to see what the Oscar-winner has become today: a washed-up caricature of himself in third-rate straight-to-DVD action flicks. He's paired well with the terrific Hunter in a breakout role (this, along with "Broadcast News" in the same year would propel her to stardom), and it's also interesting that the Oscar-winner for "The Piano" slummed it in last year's dreadful "Batman vs. Superman."
The middle act is a little slow and uneven, chasing a few too many rabbits when Hi is tempted to go back to crime, but it gets back to hilarious form in the last act, when they have a showdown with Forsythe and Goodman, in one of his earliest roles, and with Smalls, played with fiery appeal by wrestler Cobb, who, according to the Coen's, proved to be difficult to work with. In a bit part, watch for Joel Coen's real-life wife and Oscar-winner, Frances McDormand, who's appeared in nearly all their films (most notably "Fargo").
The highlight of "Raising Arizona" is no doubt the crisp dialogue and one-liners from the Coen's, and there are many that are as funny as they were 30 years ago, among them: "son, you have a panty on your head" (my personal favorite); "I'll take these Huggies and whatever cash you got'; and "well, which is it, young feller? ...should I freeze or get down on the ground?". You might also shed a tear or two at the sentimental ending, particularly when Hunter says they can't have kids of their own.
The tender, heartfelt and hilarious "Raising Arizona," even after 30 years, holds up well and in my book, still ranks as one of the Coen's best and funniest films (sorry "Lebowski" and "Fargo" enthusiasts). Watch it again if you have time, and you'll find yourself laughing quite a bit.