Arizona Dream (DVD Review)19 Apr, 2010 By: Mike Clark
Available now via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Stars Johnny Depp, Faye Dunaway, Jerry Lewis, Lili Taylor.
Yes, there is a movie with Johnny Depp and Jerry Lewis. And, wonder of wonders, the two even share several scenes, which is more than you could say for Dean Martin after 1956.
After his international success with 1985’s Oscar-nominated When Father Away on Business (and both before and after before a healthy string of Cannes honors), Serbian filmmaker Emir Kusturica got his Hollywood shot, and even in its brief New York City theatrical run (I don’t know about Arizona), you had to go down to the Village to catch it. And though one can easily see how Warner couldn’t find a way to sell it, the result has, as they say, “quirky charms,” sporadic as they are.
A prologue involving Eskimos adds a fish motif that hangs over the rest — somewhat akin to how the prologue to the Coen Brothers’ recent A Serious Man hangs over it. Initially, fish figure in the Depp character’s life (he tags them in a New York fishery), but soon he finds himself just outside of Tucson working half-heartedly in a car dealership owned by his uncle (Lewis). That’s right: Johnny Depp plays a car salesman, but let’s begin at the beginning. We also get Jerry Lewis as a car salesman.
For collectors of the peculiar, this may be your day. Depp ignores his work to get involved with a whack-job stepmother/stepdaughter duo who loathe each other yet live together on a spread large enough for the elder one (Faye Dunaway) to fly — and quite badly — a primitive plane directly out of the Wright Brothers playbook. She is also a smothering influence on the younger woman (Lili Taylor), who initially seems marginally more grounded until we see her trying to hang herself from a ceiling fan and later partaking in a loaded-gun bedroom game that is not particularly fun to watch. The scene puts the movie in a downward trajectory not up to a promising set-up.
Still, there’s all this plus a movie-fixated work colleague played by Vincent Gallo (of 2003’s notorious The Brown Bunny), Taylor playing the accordion, Michael J. Pollard and even supermodel Paulina Porizkova, who seems to have wandered in from another movie set.
Like the prints that played in America, this one runs 119 minutes — though imdb.com lists the 142 that synchs with my memories of long ago trade reviews from overseas screenings. If, so what’s missing? And does it matter? Long enough, but not overlong, the movie doesn’t seem choppy. It’s more like planned incoherence.
Dream now has enough years on it for us to look at it and go, “Wow — Depp looks young.” Lewis’s performance is interesting in that it’s kind of a hybrid between the playing-it-straight Jer (as in The King of Comedy) and the more traditional high-octane version. In one scene, he lets go with three or four seconds of verbal gibberish that is definitely for serious fans (there’s more at the very end). And in another, there’s some familiar body language in his strut as his character tries to escape the threat of being shot.
By the way, Depp and Dunaway have a sex scene that, however chastely presented, is definitely rambunctious. As his master co-star would say, “LAY-deeeeeeee!!!!!!!!”