Raising Arizona

Released:  1987

Cast:  Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, Trey Wilson, John Goodman, William Forsythe

SUMMARY:  Herbert I. (H.I, or Hi) McDunnough (Nicolas Cage) is a career criminal, whose “specialty” is robbing convenience stores with a non-loaded gun.  He winds up doing several short-term sentences in an Arizona prison, where he meets officer Ed (short for Edwina) (Holly Hunter), who takes the mug shots.  On one occasion, Ed confesses that her fiancé has left her; when he is paroled again, Hi proposes, and Ed accepts.  Hi gets a real job drilling holes in metal sheets, and the couple move into a mobile home in the desert.  For a time, they are blissfully happy together, but eventually decide that they want a child.  They discover that Ed is unable to have children, and when they inquire about adoption, they are laughed out of the office when Hi’s record is revealed.  Ed is so upset that she quits her police job.  About that time, the McDunnoughs learn about the “Arizona Quints”, five babies recently born to furniture-store owner Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson) and his wife.  When they read a report in which Arizona jokingly suggests that he has more than he bargained for, they form a plan:  take one of the babies and raise it as their own, thereby satisfying their own desire for a child and “helping” the Arizonas.  Ed waits in the car while Hi sneaks into the house and takes one of the babies, believed to be Nathan Jr. (the others are Harry, Barry, Larry and Garry), after narrowly avoiding detection by Mrs. Arizona.  Hi, Ed and Junior then return home.  The next day, Hi and Ed are surprised by the arrival of Gale (John Goodman) and Evelle Snoats (William Forsythe), two men who were in prison with Hi.  The brothers have broken out of prison, and intend to stay with Hi until they find another place.  Ed takes an immediate dislike to them, and tells Hi to get rid of them as soon as possible.  She wants to associate with more upstanding people, like Hi’s supervisor Glen, his wife Dot, and their large group of children.

That evening, Hi and Ed go to the store for diapers, but instead of paying for the Hi tries to rob the store.  An angry Ed drives off and leaves him at the store, leading Hi to escape on foot, chased by the police, the armed cashier, and eventually several dogs, before finally being picked up again by Ed.  The next day, Glen comes to the house and confronts Hi, saying that he knows Junior’s true identity.  In return for not turning them in, Glen wants Hi to give Junior to Dot, who wants another baby.  Gale and Evelle hear this, and decide to take the baby for themselves, and return him for the $25,000 reward.  They also have a plan to rob a bank, and intended to include Hi, but now tie him up and leave him in the trailer.  Luckily, Ed returns home quickly and frees him; the two then take off in pursuit of the Snoats and Junior.  During the ride, Ed suggests a divorce.  The McDunnoughs and Snoats are not the only ones after Junior:  bounty hunter Leonard Smalls has decided to find the baby, then either return him to his parents for a larger reward, or sell him on the black market.  After robbing the bank, the Snoats escape but leave Junior behind:  by the time they come back, the McDunnoughs and Smalls have also arrived.  Ed takes the baby and flees, while Hi gets into a brutal fight with Hi.  Hi eventually wins by blowing Smalls up with his own grenade.  Ed and Hi now return Junior to his real parents, but are caught by Nathan Arizona.  After hearing their reasons for the kidnapping, Arizona advises them to stay married and keep trying for children, and decides not to turn them in.  That night, Hi dreams that Gale and Evelle voluntarily return to prison; Glen  is arrested, and Nathan Junior enjoys a normal life, though he sometimes gets presents from an unknown couple.  He then sees himself and Ed as an elderly couple, surrounded by their children and grandchildren.

MY TAKE:  I have mixed feelings about the Coen brothers:  sometimes I think they’re funny, and other times they don’t impress me at all.  I think this movie had promise as a comedy, but it didn’t live up to that for me.  It was like they were trying to be madcap, but couldn’t come up with a plot that was quite crazy enough.  I think it might have been funnier if Hi and Ed had (for whatever reason, maybe for fertility treatment money) decided to kidnap Junior and then attempt to pass themselves off as his rescuers to get the reward.  Or, perhaps, if they had kidnapped Junior, and then realized they had no idea what to do with a baby, while trying to keep it secret from their neighbors.  I just felt like the movie needed something else.  I have similar mixed feelings about Nicolas Cage:  I like him in the National Treasure movies, but I tend to think he’s a cheeseball the rest of the time.  This was definitely a cheeseball movie (and seriously, what is with his hair?).  As for Holly Hunter, I have trouble believing that a cop would fall for a repeat offender, but stranger things have happened.  As always in a Coen brothers movie, Frances McDormand shows up (she’s married to Joel Coen):  this time, she’s Dot, the surprisingly well-informed mother of a horde of heathen children with Glen.  I thought the ending was kinda puny:  I knew they would get off, because Ed couldn’t go to jail, but I expected their child problems to be more concretely resolved.

RATING:  Mediocre.


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