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Raising Arizona: White Trash Makes Good

One night my mom dragged the family out to a theater in Davis so we could see a movie for her birthday. Knowing my momís usually lamentable taste in flicks, I was sure that this was going to be another evening of subtitles, smoky conversations and angst upon angst.

Ten minutes after the opening shot of Raising Arizona, I was in tears. Quite simply the funniest heist movie ever made, it strucks a lunatic chord with all viewers by being completely deadpan even when events are spinning out of control more and more by the second.

Plot summary: H.I. McDunnaugh (Nicholas Cage) is a repeat offender in the world of convenience store holdups, always on his way in or out of a maximum security prison. That is, until he meets Edwina (Holly Hunter), a no-nonsense prison photographer that melts his heart. While on the outside HI manages to get a ring ("Donít worry, I paid for it," he assures her) and itís all domestic bliss for the mismatched pair.

That is, until Ed discovers thatís unable to conceive a child. As the pair begin to spiral into depression, shocking news hits the airwaves: the Arizona Quints had been born to a woman named Florence Arizona. She is, of course, the wife of unpainted furniture outlet magnate Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson). "Weíve got more than we can handle," she laughs as the barren pair watch amazedly. So off they go to snatch one of the toddlers so they can finally create something close to a normal nuclear family.

And thatís just the first ten minutes.

To complicate matters, H.I.ís lame brained prison buddy brothers Gail (John Goodman) and Evelle (William Forsythe) have just "released ourselves on our recognizance" from the prison cells they once all shared. Theyíve come to ask H.I. in to be on the score of a lifetime. "I know youíre partial to convenice stores. But damnit H.I.," Gail snarls, "the sun donít rise and set on the corner grocery."

To H.I. this is looking better by the moment, especially since he just lost his job drilling holes in sheet metal. His foreman Glen (Sam McMurray) and wife Dot (Frances McDormand) paid him a visit earlier in the day accompanied by their demon brood and H.I. and Glen got to talking about married life. Glen advised H.I. to put some spice into his marriage by joining him and Dot in a round of wife swapping and H.I. breaks his nose. Glenís kids, of course, think this is hilarious.

After a run for Huggies that needs to be seen in order to be believed, Ed gives the jailbirds about twelve hours to get lost. They want H.I. to go with them. Unfortunately theyíve figured out just who H.I. and Edís little "Junior" is, so theyíre in for the reward. Or are they? Could they love the baby? If so theyíd better run, because the Lone Biker Of The Apocalypse (Randall "Tex" Cobb) is coming for the tot as well. Heís not the kind to mess around with.

"The name's Smalls... Leonard Small. My friends call me Lenny," he tells Nathan Sr. with a lackadaisical air, "but I got no friends."

Billed as "A Comedy Beyond Belief," this is one of the few times a movie has lived up its own tag line. Written by Joel and Ethan Coen and photographed stunningly by Men In Black director Barry Sonnenfeld, Raising Arizona features a gleefully lunatic edge paired with some of the straightest faces ever seen while making a comedy. Itís amazing that this movie didnít five years to film from actors cracking up at their own lines and by what is going on around them. When Gail and Evelle escape from their prison itís done in the middle of the night, tunneling through the mud to freedom. To me, it looks like a nightmarish forceps birth. Goodman howls his defiance of the elements through the whole scene and pulls his brother out of the mud to freedom by the legsÖ upside down.

While the disappointing The Hudsucker Proxy was still a few years away, the Coens then went on to do gems like Barton Fink, later on the Oscar-winning Fargo and one of my own top ten movies of all time, Millerís Crossing. By changing styles and genres each time, the Coens cemented their place in cinema history by attempting the insane and daring to be different.

None have ever been so delightfully wacky as Raising Arizona. You know what? I donít think there ever will be.

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