Review: ‘Arizona Dream’
There’s only one reason for Warner Home Video to release the 1993 disaster of a film, Arizona Dream: Johnny Depp. Anything with him in it is virtually a license to print money so the movie is released this week as a part of their Archive Collection. The DVD comes with the movie and nothing else as in keeping with the line designed for collectors.
While Depp was still at the beginning of his film career, the cast includes veterans who should have known better, including Faye Dunaway and Jerry Lewis. That’s right, Jerry Lewis playing a straight role. The film also has veteran character performer Michael J. Pollard in a cameo and relative newcomers Lily Taylor and Paulina Porizkova.
The movie was shot in 1991, released in Europe only two years later and didn’t come to America until 1994. The original cut ran for 142 minutes while the television and home video cuts are at 119, including this release. From what I’ve seen, that’s more than enough and the director’s cut can stay in the vault.
David Atkins wrote what is politely called a romantic fantasy about Axel (Depp), a young man trying to make it on his own in New York City when his cousin Paul (Vincent Gallo), essentially kidnaps him for a trip to Arizona for Uncle Leo’s (Lewis) wedding to the much younger Porizkova. Depp, with his vivid dreams about Eskimos, is coaxed by Uncle Leo to stay and join the family car dealership. When Axel tries, he falls for Elaine (Dunaway), a woman who dreams of flying. Her stepdaughter Grace (Taylor) has her own dream: suicide and reincarnation as a turtle. Axel and Paul vie for Elaine’s affections while Uncle Leo is convinced he’s dying and wants to leave the family together.
The script, though, under-develops every character and there may be some comedic elements, but there’s little to hold things together. Why does Leo want to marry the younger woman and what does she see in him? How did Elaine get to be so daft and what demons drive Grace towards her own death? There’s a morbid tone to everything and despite the desert setting, the film feels dark and forbidding.
There’s a lot of talk of death from all the characters but there’s no rational behind any of it and interestingly enough, only two actually die. And let’s not even discuss the final scene.
Directed by Emir Kusturica (who cowrote the story) has some terrific performers to work with but doesn’t let any of them shine. Lewis is wasted in a nothing part and you wonder why the extremely selective performer agreed to be in such a minor role. Depp’s characterization tries too hard and at times feels like he’s in an entirely different film.