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Seven Psychopaths (2012)

Chuck Zlotnick/CBS Films

“Seven Psychopaths” brings to mind the Tarantino knockoffs that Miramax used to crank out on the assembly line during its mid-1990s heyday, when such movies were de rigueur among neophytes straight out of film school. Their snappy one-liners, gratuitous gore and self-aware metaness have often seemed more impressive to the filmmakers themselves than to card-carrying cinephiles. While Quentin Tarantino himself references iconic filmmakers from Jean-Luc Godard to John Woo, those who reference Mr. Tarantino instead merely expose themselves as blissfully ignorant hacks who could really use a college-level introductory film course.

Colin Farrell plays Marty, an alcoholic, screenwriting Irish transplant in Hollywood with a major bout of writer’s block. His best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) is an actor who dabbles in a scam that involves kidnapping people’s dogs and then returning them for cash rewards. Billy’s scheme finally backfires when his new victim is brutal crime lord Charlie (Woody Harrelson), who will spare no one in order to find his beloved Shih Tzu. But apparently all this bloody mess only serves as inspiration for Marty.

What about the other psychopaths, you ask? Well, there’s this outlandish backstory involving characters variously played by Christopher Walken, Linda Bright Clay, Tom Waits, Harry Dean Stanton, Amanda Warren and Brendan Sexton III. This movie-within-a-movie-turned-flashback makes little sense, much like the rest of the film. The third act begins with Billy outlining an anticlimactic final shoot-out for Marty’s screenplay and then proceeding enact the scene play-by-play in the Charlie Kaufman tradition.

Indeed, the finale is every bit as anticlimactic as Billy envisions. There’s never a moment in which “Seven Psychopaths” seems particularly original or inspired. Fresh off the success of “In Bruges,” writer-director Martin McDonagh is more preoccupied with what looks cool on paper rather than what actually works. Just to give you an idea, the plot here is so unintelligible that its distributor ended up cutting corners with the poster, the trailer and the synopsis in the press notes. Tonally, it’s a bit like Danny Boyle’s misguided “A Life Less Ordinary” — with a promising British talent lured by America who is too eager to please and finds himself in way over his head.


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