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Clever, confusing 'Psychopaths'

CBS Films

By Akshay Seth, Daily Arts Writer
Published October 17, 2012

The first scene in Martin McDonagh’s recent film “Seven Psychopaths” evokes classic Tarantino — a forcibly boring setting, painstakingly “normal” characters and, of course, dialogue. Pithy, nonchalant, beautiful dialogue. From a distance, it’s just two run-of-the-mill mob hitmen shooting the shit as they prepare to brutally execute their boss’s ex-girlfriend. But sitting in the theater, it’s a bracing display of how effective writing can take complete hold of how the most overused, rundown movie tropes can come to life on screen.

Those first five minutes, along with a few more moments littered throughout the movie, are some of the most entertaining snippets of film released this entire year. The rest of the flick, for lack of a better phrase, sucks. It’s boring, scatterbrained and overwhelmingly plagued by McDonagh’s feeble attempts at ridiculing the predictability of modern Hollywood. Even though the assertion is valid, it’s psychopathic (get it?) to try and demonize the notion of predictability by making a film so completely defined by its own unpredictability.

Don’t get me wrong — some strangeness can go a long way. But McDonagh isn’t just satisfied by making his plot weird. No, he has to randomly stick in three more bizarre stories that serve only to disrupt the film’s already off-kilter pacing. Why do the stories seemingly appear out of thin air? Perhaps the oldest excuse in the book: The main character, Marty (Colin Farrell, “Total Recall”), is a Hollywood writer suffering from alcoholism and a severe case of writer’s block.

Marty’s current project is a script called “Seven Psychopaths,” about a group of uniquely insane individuals on a quest. The problem is, Marty doesn’t know who the psychopaths are, or what the quest is. The only things set in stone: The movie can’t have too much violence and can’t end in a massive shoot-out. It’s a shitty idea and Marty knows it. So as he struggles to string something together before deadline, our beleaguered protagonist hesitantly accepts the help of Billy (Sam Rockwell, “Moon”) and Hans (Christopher Walken, “Click”), scam artists who make a living by kidnapping dogs and then returning them for the reward.

As it so happens, the duo’s latest victim is a shih-tzu owned by the fiercest dog-loving mob boss in town (Woody Harrelson, “The Hunger Games”). Finally, just as the fun starts and the dog hunt begins, McDonagh’s film collapses in on itself and simply stops being entertaining. The surprising part is that the performances by the three leads never slip into that same category.

All the cheesy impersonations aside, the fact of the matter is that Walken is the type of actor who could stand in a corner reading an encyclopedia and somehow manage to make it entertaining. So when “Seven Psychopaths” starts to feel drawn out and irrelevant, the character the audience really looks toward is Hans who, through his wonderfully accented quirks and mannerisms, is able to keep them chuckling along.

But McDonagh has never really had a problem coming up with fascinating characters or the necessary dialogue to keep them interesting. The trouble is that after looking past all the clumsily executed side-stories and subplots, no concrete narrative exists to dictate the flow. And maybe that lack of structure is exactly what McDonagh was going for, but for god’s sake, Marty, why does it have to be so damn boring?


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