Inconsistent is the best word to describe Arsenal, the latest low-budget crime thriller from director Steven C. Miller. The overly simplistic screenplay is peppered with cliché characters and bad dialogue, saved only occasionally by seasoned actors who seem to be slumming it in low budget filmmaking, either out of desperation or simple disregard for good taste. The rest of the cast is not talented enough to handle the poorly written words, leaving questions about either Miller’s ability to direct actors or the casting director’s judgment. The film is also inconsistent in visual style, spending a large amount of effort and money on a flashy climactic piece of violent action, while other areas of the film look as though they were hurriedly shot by an amateur filmmaker.
Inconsistencies aside, there just isn’t much to enjoy in the basic premise of this sloppy thriller. It is trashy in a way that feels in bad taste, reveling in horrible violence without cause. The film begins with a prologue sequence of two brothers that is senselessly violent, making unclear statements which plague the remainder of the film. Mikey looks out for his younger brother once discovering that their uncle, and guardian, killed himself, but he is also abusive and ruthlessly unkind for no reason. This strange relationship is never explained in the prologue, only really being concerned with setting up Mikey’s decision to work for a local mobster named Eddie King (Nicolas Cage).
The film then jumps ahead decades to the grown up Mikey (Jonathan Schaech), who has become a lifelong screw up, presumably so that his brother JP (Adrian Grenier) can have a happy and successful life. JP is a contractor with a wife, whereas Mikey is a burned out drug dealer with a nagging ex-wife and a daughter that rebels by hanging out with thugs even worse than her father. But all of this is fairly unnecessary details to the actual plot, which involves Eddie King randomly deciding to abduct Mikey and hold him ransom. As strange as this storyline is, it gives Cage the opportunity to chew scenery and Miller the chance to showcase graphic violence that he seems to revel in, whether making crime or horror films.
John Cusack also shows up for a supporting role as a connected friend of the family, in order to help JP discover why Mikey was taken. Although the role is all but unnecessary, it is a welcome change to see a skilled actor appear for portions of the film. Cusack takes a natural approach to the role, never playing up the melodrama of the situations, whereas Cage amplifies everything with his overacting. Perhaps part of this is due to his character’s cocaine habit, but this overly energetic performance is only made more ridiculous with the use of a poorly designed and unnecessary prosthetic nose on the recognizable actor. Cage comes off as little more than a cartoonish villain, which creates a great deal of unintentional humor within the tastelessly violent film.
If much of the film feels sloppily constructed, the sequences of violence are given special attention. It ends up feeling like more than half the budget went into the scenes with people being blown to pieces in slow motion photography, whereas other scenes in the film feel as shoddy as a student film. It is impossible to compliment one aspect of the film without pointing out how another suffered as a result. Even an appreciation for Cage at his campiest is likely not enough to endure the inconsistencies in filmmaking.
The Blu-ray release of Arsenal comes with a Digital HD copy of the film, as well as the special features on the disc. These include a commentary track with Miller and Schaech, a making-of featurette with interviews from cast and crew, as well as extended footage of these interviews in a separate feature. There is also a trailer gallery for other Lionsgate films.
Entertainment Value: 5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 4.5/10
Historical Significance: 3/10
Special Features: 5.5/10