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Bad Hair Day

Graeme Hunter

The Legend of Barney Thomson (2015)

Robert Carlyle gets a bad case of the accidental serial-killer blues in "The Legend of Barney Thomson," playing a sad-sack Glasgow barber with an unfortunate tendency to stab people with the styling shears. Poorly suited to employment burnishing other mens' self-image and tied to the apron strings of a potty-mouth mother whose manner could alarm the horses, Barney's impotent frustration with life's unfairness leads him into a new sideline as what looks like Scotland's least ingenious murderer. Unfortunately for him, another — rather more skillful — one of those is on the prowl already, sending victims' severed body parts through the post and confounding a police force of Keystone-level uselessness.

Directed by Mr. Carlyle — his début — from one of Douglas Lindsay's black-comedy novels, the film sets out its stall with a close-up of a severed member previously owned by someone even worse off than Barney, before savoring sights like Tom Courtenay's eternally bemused police chief swearing his head off. (At one point a pair of surgically removed but structurally intact buttocks are placed on his desk, prompting the agonized cry "Is that plate from the canteen?") Both Mr. Courtenay and Ray Winstone as the even more sweary Detective Inspector Holdall have a lot of fun, while Mr. Carlyle gamely keeps Barney's anguish in a lower register as the film's ridiculousness escalates around him — not altogether convincingly. Whichever way the film turns it bumps into the likes of Martin McDonagh and Edgar Wright or even Quentin Tarantino lying in wait — filmmakers who dug their fangs more deeply into male law and disorder.

Mr. Carlyle's chamber-piece approach does give Emma Thompson the chance to ham up a storm as Barney's crackpot mother Cemolina, who slept with monsters and produced another one; the pair of them get into slapstick business with uncooperative corpses that proves the spirit of "Weekend at Bernie's" shall never die; and Mr. Carlyle's direction is suitably droll. But nothing in the film proper is as striking as the mid-credits outtakes of Mr. Carlyle cracking up, still a tough concept to handle more than two decades after the actor's blazingly corrosive work as another provoked killer in "Cracker," not to mention the things he got up to in "Trainspotting." The other takeaway is a probably forlorn hope that Mr. Winstone's profane, emasculated, Colonel Blimp of a copper was the actor's way of warming up for F.B.I. agent Angelo Pappas, which might liven up the "Point Break" remake no end.


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