The thing about psychopaths is they are often unpredictable. Following that logic, if you pack a movie to the brim with psychopaths there’s no telling where the thing will end up.
This is part of the fun of the strange, hilarious, and (intentionally?) uneven film “Seven Psychopaths.”
The movie is writer/director Martin McDonagh’s follow-up to his quirky, Oscar-nominated, hit-man flick “In Bruges,” and contains the same nervy, reflective, and sharp-tongued tone.
Much like the Belgian city of Bruges felt like its own character in his first film, McDonagh casts a sun-drenched Los Angeles as the disjointed background for “Psychopaths.” That said, it is the living, breathing members of the cast that make this movie such a treat.
The core plot revolves around alcoholic screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell) and his efforts to write a movie called – wait for it – “Seven Psychopaths.” The biggest problem with his screenplay is that it doesn’t have any psychopaths in it.
Fortunately, Marty finds inspiration in his best bud Billy (Sam Rockwell), a lowlife grifter who kidnaps dogs with his business partner, Hans (Christopher Walken), and then returns the “lost” dogs for reward money.
Marty gets inadvertently dragged into his pal’s bungling schemes when Billy snatches the beloved Shih Tzu of unhinged crime boss Charlie (Woody Harrelson). Marty, Billy, and Hans spend the rest of the movie on the run, but before the movie can take us from point A to point B, we are spun off on many a tangent.
Floating around the periphery of the main story are, among other things, a masked serial killer who only targets members of the mafia, a Vietnamese priest (Long Nguyen) sworn to vengeance and a heart-broken, bunny-toting killer of serial killers (Tom Waits), who is searching for his beloved partner-in-crime.
Some of these story threads get neatly tied into the main plotline and others do not, but as Marty writes his movie and the lines between fantasy and reality get increasingly blurry it has to be said that no film has been so self-conscious about itself since Charlie Kaufman’s “Adaptation.”
McDonagh is clearly working some things out here, not only about movie-making and the creative process but also tackling some weighty life issues as well. Not everything works, but even when he’s swinging and missing, McDonagh is able to overcome the flaws thanks to his sense of humor, eye for absurdity, and his killer cast.
You could have Farrell, Rockwell, Walken, and Harrelson sit around discussing municipal building codes and it would still be more entertaining than 60 percent of the movies that came out this year.
McDonagh then went and filled the supporting roles with a murderer’s row of hey-it’s-that-guy character actors. The list includes Michael Pitt, Michael Stuhlbarg, Abbie Cornish, Harry Dean Stanton, Kevin Corrigan, Gabourey Sidibe, and Zeljko Ivanek. It’s like the greatest summer stock lineup ever.
In spite of the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed “Seven Psychopaths” from beginning to end, the move still felt incomplete. In a lot of ways, it felt like listening to a musician tune his instrument before a show; all the elements were there, they just weren’t put together.
Time will only tell if McDonagh can take it to the next level, but if “Seven Psychopaths” turns out to be his cinematic equivalent of a soundcheck, buy your tickets now for the concert. It’s going to be awesome.
“Seven Psychopaths” is rated R for strong violence, bloody images, pervasive language, sexuality/nudity, and some drug use.