Based on the novel by John Brandon, Arkansas is the directorial debut for Clark Duke, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Andrew Boonkrong. This film is clearly a passion project for Duke, who is from Arkansas himself, and sees him stepping away from his comedy roots after lending turns in films like Hot Tub Time Machine and Kick-Ass, wanting to delve into the realm of gritty crime dramas. The film that he took a stab at is a time-hopping tale of subterfuge and connections, starring Hollywood talents like Liam Hemsworth, Vince Vaughn, Vivica A. Fox, and John Malkovich.

Brandon’s book is an ambitious one to adapt, especially considering that it’s split into chapters that feature different narrators telling their side of the story at different points in time. The film does its job at replicating that structure, but that creates some uneven pacing that can make proceedings feel a tad sluggish at times. It’s understandable why they chose to do this split-time structure since both Hemsworth and Vaughn’s stories are meant to mirror and parallel each other’s in some ways. The underlying motivational factors for these characters are that of a strict and resigned work ethic and that self-preservation, with each character playing out their role in a deadly game that they are fated to lose at.

It’s all predictable stuff and stuff you haven’t seen done a million times before in much better films, but at best, this is an okay crime-noir that’s functional enough to keep itself just barely afloat. The actors involved do the best that is asked of them, plus it does have a visual aesthetic that adds to the moody atmosphere of the film while also having some articulately tight camera shots to reflect the characters’ restricted surroundings.

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There was a part of me that really wanted to love Arkansas, especially considering that it was Clarke’s directorial debut that just so happened to be a crime-noir (something that’s right up this writer’s alley), but what’s presented here is just passable at best. If you’re killing time and want to have something on in the background, this’ll do its job, but it isn’t really gonna do much more than that in the long-run.

Dir: Clark Duke

Scr: Clark Duke, Andrew Boonkrong

Cast: Liam Hemsworth, Clark Duke, Michael Kenneth Williams, Vivica A. Fox, Eden Brolin, Chandler Duke, John Malkovich, Vince Vaughn

Prd: Clark Duke, Patrick Hibler, Jeff Rice, Martin Sprock

DOP: Steven Meizler

Music: The Flaming Lips

Country: United States

Year: 2020

Runtime: 115 minutes

Arkansas is available on Digital Download 13 July & DVD 20 July from Lionsgate UK

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