Arsenal was directed by Steven C. Miller (Silent Night, Escape Plan 2: Hades), written by Jason Mosberg (One Dollar), and stars Adrian Grenier (Marauders, Trash Fire), Johnathon Schaech (Acts of Vengeance, Day of the Dead: Bloodline), Nicolas Cage (The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, Willy’s Wonderland), Lydia Hull (Survive the Night, Escape Plan), and John Cusack (Pursuit, The Numbers Station). It follows a man on a mission to rescue his brother who has been kidnapped by a mobster and his men.
The Plot: Very few of the events that take place in Arsenal are original, and even fewer are worth mentioning. Similar to ‘Pride and Glory’, the movie intends to tell a compelling tale of two brothers on opposite ends of a criminal situation; but this movie holds no urgency and too much histrionics. After the death of their parents, brothers JP (Grenier) and Mikey (Schaech) go down different paths, the latter of them getting involved with mobster Eddie (Cage).
23 years later, JP has his own company and a daughter with his wife Lizzie (Hull) and Mikey has remnants of a family and does less than legal jobs for cash. Mikey tries to flip some drugs to pay Eddie back for something or other but when that falls through and gets Mikey captured, it’s up to JP and armchair detective Sal (Cusack) to come up with the cash or save him.
The Characters: Mostly sticking to convention, Mosberg’s script offers little to dig into, despite a decent setup for the brothers. JP was a quiet (seemingly anyway) kid who got mixed treatment from his brother and none at all from their parents. After being second fiddle to Mikey in their formative years, JP has become a generic success with a company to his name, a house, and a family. Mikey was and still is, a troubled person; dishing out violence at home and abroad for the military but retaining a good heart.
They’re still close, bonding over baseball and beer, but their relationship never changes throughout the runtime, leaving their dilemma feeling pointless. Lizzie doesn’t do much as the wife, and neither does Sal who just hands out details to JP. Eddie is… something. A malevolent, coke-snorting, fake nose-having maniac with an indeterminate accent. He’s vivid I’ll give him that. Performances are mixed, Grenier and Schaech do what they can with a limited script and Cage goes off the rails but everyone else phones it in.
The Crime: While less-is-more is a good approach to writing and movies, Arsenal does so little with the small sparks that it does have that interest waned fast. A cut-and-dry rescue scenario or a more in-depth investigation with some intrigue would’ve worked here but Mosberg achieves neither. Drug deals and violence are prevalent but Arsenal merely presents the basics without involvement, throwing leads at JP for him to pick up on that eventually send him on the right trail but the information they provide all comes across more like the logical next steps JP and Sal would’ve taken and less as curious or surprising discoveries.
Not helping matters is the obliviousness that JP shows as he attempts to identify Mikey’s captor, given Mikey’s past, he should have a pretty good idea of who might be responsible. To sucker punch an already limping crime story is the suggestion that Mikey might not be as loyal as JP once thought; which is made note of a couple of times and promptly tossed. Oh well.
The Technics: Aside from a myriad of missed opportunities and plot holes plugged with padding and gratuitous violence, Arsenal doesn’t offer much to look at, listen to, or a reason to pay much attention. Cinematography by Brandon Cox (Vendetta, The Collector) is typical for big-budgeted actioners, filled with needless shaky-cam and an inordinate number of closeups; but feels out of place in a low-budget crime/thriller.
Sometimes there are places or shots that are nice to look at but it’s too little too late. The sound design is worth noting because Arsenal’s insistence on showing nearly every violent moment in slo-mo really put some weight on the audio track to pick up the slack. Bones breaking, bat thwacking, and bullets penetrating are all well done and at least add another layer of competence to a movie whose script desperately needs it.
Steven C. Miller has had a bumpy career so far, consistently making good films after bad ones with that streak continuing with Arsenal; the bad southern crime movie with little to remember aside from a crazy Cage. At least First Kill turned out good.
Arsenal is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital from Lionsgate. And if you’re looking for something similar, but hopefully better, FilmTagger has some suggestions.