By Bill Wine
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – What a come-hither title. What a dithery cast. But what a shameless shaggy dognapping story, this violent movie about violent movies.
Seven Psychopaths, a caper flick with its tongue securely in its cheek, is about, well, a bunch of homicidal crazies and a screenwriter who’s writing a movie about them.
But the narrative is so arbitrary, so scattered and disjointed, it’s like an intermittently entertaining prank being played on the audience.
Colin Farrell stars as Marty Fanaran, a struggling, booze-soaked Irish Hollywood screenwriter, whose girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) has about had it with his excessive drinking. He’s facing a severe screenwriter’s block while working on the screenplay that gives this film its name. And that’s all he has for his movie-to-be: a title.
So what does he do, willy-nilly, as he develops his project? He talks to as many psychopaths in person as he can.
Sam Rockwell plays a Los Angeles buddy of Marty’s, an unemployed actor who steals a shih tzu as part of a canine abduction scheme. The dog belongs to a murderous crime boss played by Woody Harrelson, who seeks vengeance. Then there’s Marty’s partner-in-crime, played by Christopher Walken. And later there’s cameoing Tom Waits.
Writer-co-producer-and-director Martin McDonagh, reteaming with Farrell, who starred in his gangster farce, In Bruges – here playing the presumably autobiographical namesake protagonist – offers this aburdist satire of the screenwriting process almost as a companion piece to the Charlie Kaufman/Spike Jonze collaboration, Adaptation.
And McDonagh works hard to defy generic expectations as he explores the elusive border that separates invented fiction from experienced reality and takes a look at action-flick conventions and those obsessed with the writing process.
But he tries to keep so many balls in the air, eventually we tire of the sidebars and lose interest in what should be the narrative spine. At a certain point, we even decide that McDonagh must be making all this up as he proceeds without knowing where any of it is going.
And by the end of the movie, we realize that we were right: just because a movie is self-aware in its references to the tired cliches it’s indulging in, they’re still tired cliches.
As for the violence, it’s so bloody (and) exaggerated, it’s played mostly for laughs. But we grow weary of that as well. At a certain point, the callousness about human life, played as comedy or not, becomes off-putting.
Farrell plays straight man to the wackos around him, especially the deliriously deadpan Walken and the hysterically histrionic Rockwell — scenery chewers extraordinaire. And it’s fun to watch talented hams strut their self-indulgent stuff, catapulting over the top delivering offbeat line readings. But they need a coherent script to stay anchored and they just don’t have one: what they have instead is a quirky doodle pad just daring us to dismiss it out of hand.
But was anybody in charge here? Yes, McDonagh was, squandering his assets instead of weaving them into the tapestry.
So we’ll dognap 2 stars out of 4 for Seven Psychopaths, a cockeyed caravan of cool character actors in search of connection that never comes. Even the title – this incomprehensible film’s best feature – ends up being meaningless.