I really wanted to like “Arkansas,” actor-turned-director/writer Clark Duke‘s directorial debut, but this unpleasantly offbeat movie sputters along until it finally fizzles out. The film was set to premier at this year’s SXSW film festival in Austin, Texas, and it reeks of a checklist of annoyingly hipster things “South By” audiences tend to enjoy (ironic costumes, a killer soundtrack, bloody violence). It’s good enough for a festival circuit that’s filled with film-literate audiences, but it may prove too bland and boring for the home streaming crowd.
Based on the 2008 novel by John Brandon, “Arkansas” narrates the story of Kyle (Liam Hemsworth) and Swin (Duke), a couple of criminal idiots who live by the orders of a drug kingpin called Frog (Vince Vaughn), who they’ve never met. The pair pose as park rangers during the day and go about their illicit activities at night. Swin has a difficult time blending in, and starts a relationship with a charming woman he meets at the supermarket (Eden Brolin), while Kyle spends his spare time trying to figure out the mystery of who Frog really is. After a horrible series of missteps and poor decisions, the two men find themselves on Frog’s most wanted hit list.
Duke isn’t a bad director, and the film has an appealing, 80s-style comedy thriller vibe (the tone and style remind me of Michael Ritchie’s 1985 movie, “Fletch”). The script has some clever one-liners and the story is well-organized and told in chapters as a method of corralling the material, but there is an abundance of distracting flashbacks that slow the flow. There are some flashes of brilliance, but the majority of the film is tedious to sit through.
The cast works well here, and Hemsworth and Duke have a pleasant onscreen chemistry. The actors go from the highest of the high (an all-to-brief supporting role for John Malkovich) to the lowest of the low (I cringe just thinking about Vaughn’s terrible Southern accent), but all of them deserved a better vehicle to showcase their talents.