Arkansas is a crime/drama thriller revolving around an ignorant character named Swin (Clark Duke) who is instructed by his superior to partner with smug and swaggering Kyle (Liam Hemsworth) in smuggling drugs underneath orders from a kingpin named Frog (Vince Vaughn), a mysterious man they’ve never met. When their trade goes dreadfully off-beam, the penalties become disastrous. This film is directed by Clark Duke, who plays the supporting role of Swin, an oblivious type who fashions Air Jordan shoes, fanny packs and Hulk Hogan t-shirts while striving to gain the liking of Kyle, a bearded lumberjack type with a manner of calm toughness underneath his plaid shirts and black shades. A Park Ranger named Bright (John Malkovich), who works for Frog, informs them of their new operating plans. They’re to work undercover in the guise of Park Rangers under alias names while transporting drugs across state lines.
This film struggles to find an identity the same way Kyle and Swin first meet Frog, they’re unaware of his true identity, merely seeing him as the owner of a buy & sell trade business. Through flashbacks, we’re brought up-to-speed on Frog’s backstory of how he became the drug kingpin of Arkansas. The plot unfolds between these three characters in the form of five chapters, superimposed with titles on the screen over black, explaining the backstories of Kyle, Swin and Frog, and finally tying them all together in the film’s final chapter, in an obvious Tarantino fashion. The problem with Arkansas is its own identity crisis; it doesn’t know what it wants to be. It attempts to sell us on a serious crime drama, but that pitch goes out the door once we start laughing at numerous sequences due to the comedic undertones of the film, that are inevitably present, since the topics of discussion in the dialogue are outrageous and extraordinary, in conjunction with impeccable timing of delivery between the dynamic of Liam Hemsworth and Clark Duke, making us jolt out laughs. The drawback here is that this film is a comedy trying to pass off solely as a stern and solemn thriller, when its humor says otherwise. Had the marketing and advertising of the film catered more toward amusement and comicality, we would take it truly for what it really is; a farce.
There are many scenes of violence that are executed with shades of humor. The banter between Kyle and Swin is comedic, making us get into a laughable state so that when the brutal violence occurs, it has more of a grotesque shock effect of awe rather than a repulsive feeling of tastelessness. These hints of comedy and outrageous one-liners evoking provocative thoughts probably stems from Clark Duke’s background in The Office (2005). Kyle and Swin take orders from all over the map, including a woman who calls herself ‘Her’ (Vivica A. Fox), because if she’s being wire-tapped by the government, ‘her’ is enigmatic and inexplicable. At times, the film drags on, it’s just as a discombobulated as the characters describe, themselves, how the organized crime of the south operates; with no organization at all. The drug crimes of Arkansas are functioned by good-for-nothing degenerates. Nonetheless, Kyle and Swin are threatening, daring and treacherous people that cause grievous circumstances in Frog’s business for the simple reason of being imprudent and negligent individuals.
The use of sporadic voice-overs throughout the film from our narrator, Kyle, subliminally holds our hands as the plot unfolds and seems unnecessary since the film would have progressed just as efficiently had this technique, notoriously known to be used to compensate for storytelling loopholes, been left out entirely. Vince Vaughn’s southern drawl for Frog is hauntingly convincing as he’s always believable when portraying ruthless characters. It’s easy to inadvertently neglect that Liam Hemsworth is an Australian actor since his southern enunciations appear to be authentic. Arkansas is a fresh take for the crime genre and comes off like it’s like the ‘Goodfellas’ of the south, except these ‘fellas’ are sloppy, shambolic, reprobate comrades. Had the studio told the marketing and advertising team to elaborate more on the comedy and less on the drama, this film would have faired well, as opposed to selling it as a serious crime film, which is hard to believe.