By David Leibowitz
Live in Arizona long enough and eventually you hear from your friends elsewhere about their perceptions of the state.
When I first moved to the Valley in 1995, those comments chiefly centered on four things: the scalding heat, the Grand Canyon, the retiree population and sports.
This comprised everything my friends knew about Arizona, impressions gleaned mostly from brief childhood visits – “dude, the Canyon is, like, a huge hole” – or from watching TV – “saw on the weather your high temp Saturday is 186 degrees. Ha, good luck with that.”
Social media didn’t exist then, news cycles were slower, and our culture in general was less vicious by a power of 10.
Those days are long gone. And, like me, you’ve probably seen and heard a corresponding seismic shift in America’s impression of Arizona.
What’s our “national reputation” circa 2018? Still hot, still home to the Grand Canyon… but also teeming with racists, gun nuts, illegal immigration controversies, drug traffickers and certifiably insane politicians.
Let me make myself clear before we go any further: I don’t think Arizona’s reputation and its reality match. I love this state. I absolutely wouldn’t live anywhere else.
I believe my adopted home is more than its warts, weirdos and politics often make it appear to be. But I also see how we got here after years of Senate Bill 1070 headlines and “that crazy Sheriff with the chain gang and the pink underwear” stories.
I also know our national reputation is about to take another punch in the jaw thanks to Hollywood and abysmally unfunny comic actor Danny McBride, star of Vice Principals and Eastbound and Down.
Arizona, with McBride in the lead, premiered Aug. 24 in theaters and video on demand. The official synopsis: “Cassie is a real estate agent and single mom struggling to keep it all together during the housing crisis of 2009.
“Her problems go from bad to worse when disgruntled client Sonny (Danny McBride) violently confronts Cassie’s boss and then kidnaps Cassie – making one outrageously bad, and bloody, decision after another.”
The film’s official trailer opens on the Arizona state flag, desert sprawl and acres of “Foreclosure” and “Short Sale” signs.
The Arizona cliches keep coming fast and furious: ghost town burbs, plenty of .357 Magnums, a doofus local sheriff, and Mark Lindsey’s 1970 hit “Arizona” dominating the soundtrack.
The flick’s tagline? “The heat is on. But it’s a dry heat.”
You get the sense this is one of those Hollywood dark comedies that packs every joke into the preview.
Like McBride explaining to his captives how they’re going to bury the boss: “Here’s the plan. We’re gonna take Gary’s body – bodies are like super heavy, right? – and we’re gonna chop it up… like civilized people.”
Cue McBride taking a shovel to the face.
Critic Brian Tallerico saw Arizona during its Sundance Film Festival premiere. “It’s a thriller that’s not thrilling and a comedy that’s not funny,” was his take.
I doubt Arizona will land any Oscar nominations or break any box office records. Even so, the movie represents one more reason for a few thousand people to reaffirm what they think they know about we 7 million dwellers of the Grand Canyon State.
In Arizona, according to them, we all fire bullets with calibers higher than our IQs. We all live in stucco suburbs full of red tile and cul de sacs. And we all went dead-ass broke buying 5,000-square-foot McMansions back during the Great Recession.
Some people think that’s all that exists in Arizona. Of course, some people also think Danny McBride is funny. Count me out in both instances.