Don't be fooled by the promotional poster for Seven Psychopaths, with its cast members numbered from one through seven. There are more crazies here than meet the eye.
That's part of the joy in writer/director Martin McDonagh's follow-up to 2008's much-admired In Bruges: nothing is quite what it seems. Until it does become exactly what it seems, at which point Seven Psychopaths becomes maddeningly conventional.
Colin Farrell is Marty, a struggling L.A. screenwriter whose latest script has a title - Seven Psychopaths - and not much else. Fortunately, his actor friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) is eager to help come up with ideas. And because Billy is involved in a dognapping ring with his associate Hans (Christopher Walken), he's a perfect gateway to the City of Angels' weird, seedy and ultimately explosively violent side.
Some of that violence is perpetrated by Charlie (Woody Harrelson), a psychotic gangster whose beloved Shih Tzu has been stolen by Billy and Hans. It's Charlie's efforts to recover his dog that propels much the movie's plot, as he pursues the hapless trio across town and out into the desert.
The exotic locale, firmer plot and more consistent pace of In Bruges (plus the presence of the always amazing Brendan Gleeson) make it the better and more memorable of McDonagh's two feature films, but the cast here is uniformly fine. Rockwell is a standout, and Walken is, well, Walken. But not creepy-weird Walken, more like oblivious-heartfelt Walken. Still not a guy you'd want to mess with, particularly in a graveyard shootout.
Harrelson, meanwhile, owns the angry psycho shtick, and Tom Waits as a bunny-loving serial killer has an origin story that is equally horrible and heartbreaking. Farrell himself the only occasional weak link, as he's often required to play the bug-eyed straight man to Walken, Harrelson and Rockwell's insanity.
It's been a while since we've seen anyone attempt to riff on/rip off Quentin Tarantino, which is why Seven Psychopaths feels fresher than it might have, say, a decade ago or two. McDonagh has a different set of sensibilities, of course; it's his mixing of humour and violence, perpetrated by silver-tongued characters, that recalls Tarantino's earlier movies.
But let's face it, making a movie about making a movie - even if the film is about the process of writing a screenplay - can lead to altogether too clever meta-jokes, and Seven Psychopaths occasionally indulges in these. Yeah, we get it, things said about movies can apply to this very movie we're watching. Stop elbowing us and winking.
And given McDonagh's great strengths as a writer, it's a little disappointing that Seven Psychopaths fades and dissolves in its final act. The loopy, crazy, convoluted buildup fails to deliver an equally unconventional resolution.
Still, it's a movie well worth experiencing for the memorable characters, ready laughs and explosive violence. Even if it's not, you know, insanely great.
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