An odd couple deals drugs in the Deep South in an odd film that wears its eccentricity on its 

sleeve to diminishing effect.


Disorganized crime: Clark Duke, Liam Hemsworth and John Malkovich


Arkansas is not to be confused with Alaska (1996), Arizona (2018), Nebraska (2013) or even Oklahoma! (1955). Arkansas, produced, co-written and directed by Clark Duke, is predominantly set in the twenty-fifth state and is adapted from the novel by John Brandon. It is the sort of jokey black comedy in which every participant is an eccentric and/or a smartass, while the wisecracks fly like tickertape. Unfortunately, the film’s knowing self-consciousness is not supported by a decent plot, an inch of credibility or a pulse of narrative momentum – let alone a decent guffaw. Duke, an actor best known for playing Clark Green in NBC TV’s The Office, has called on his stellar mates to beef up the box-office, and has been handed a gem from John Malkovich as an affable, philosophical drug dealer posing as a park ranger. The other stand-out turn is from Eden Brolin (daughter of Josh, granddaughter of James) as Johnna, the unlikely girlfriend of Swin.


Swin (Clark Duke himself) and Johnna meet cute in a supermarket (the Piggly Wiggly) in a typically staged encounter. He, the chubby, unprepossessing Swin, saunters up to the very pretty Johnna and states, “let’s get this courtship under way.” The surprise is that she’s free, willing and agrees to a first date, on the condition that they don’t kiss for the first five days. Well, Swin must have something – although the audience is hardly privy to it. Swin’s constant companion is the blue-eyed, 6’3½” hunk Kyle Ribb, played by none other than Liam Hemsworth. Kyle is the brain of this odd couple – and our narrator – who muses on the soundtrack that “organised crime in the South is not that organised.” Swin and Kyle are paired on a job by an anonymous drug lord and Swin, dressed like a Miami drug dealer, introduces himself to Kyle as “something of a criminal mastermind.” Of course, he’s nothing of the sort and when the duo’s first deal goes pear-shaped, Kyle takes command of their operation. What happens next is dragged out over five chapters, two of which are flashbacks.


To his credit, Duke is not afraid to surround himself by very tall actors (Vince Vaughn is 6’5”), to accentuate his character’s lack of stature, and manages to steer Swin into something resembling a real human being by the story’s end. But in spite of the explanatory voice-over, a lot of blanks are left staring out of the screen, including key plot points. It’s possible to make a film in this congested genre that is funny, stylish and plausible – cf. Fargo – but Arkansas is too long-winded and contrived to gain any such traction. Duke does exhibit promise as a director, and there are a handful of nice throwaways, but not enough to warrant your ten dollars at the box-office. So Netflix is probably where the film belongs.




Cast: Liam Hemsworth, Clark Duke, Michael Kenneth Williams, Vivica A. Fox, Eden Brolin, Chandler Duke, John Malkovich, Vince Vaughn, Barry Primus, Juston Street, Brad William Henke, Jeff Chase, Angela Duke.


Dir Clark Duke, Pro Clark Duke, Patrick Hibler, Jeff Rice, Martin Sprock and Ryan R. Johnson, Screenplay Clark Duke and Andrew Boonkrong, from the novel by John Brandon, Ph Steven Meizler, Pro Des Scott Enge, Ed Patrick J. Don Vito, Music Devendra Banhart and Noah Georgeson, Songs The Flaming Lips, Costumes Ashley Heathcock, Sound Brad Whitcanack.


Hercules Film Fund/Rhea Films/Storyboard Media/Sprockfeller Pictures/Don Kee Productions/Media Finance Capital-Lionsgate.

116 mins. USA. 2020. Available on Netflix. Cert. 15.