The geography might be different but the attitude is the same in Seven Psychopaths, the follow-up for British filmmaker Martin McDonagh to his sizzling breakthrough comedy In Bruges (2008).
Yet while this edgy ensemble comedy retains McDonagh’s crackling dialogue from his previous film, it’s a disjointed effort that has difficulty sustaining its narrative momentum.
McDonagh downgrades in terms of setting, trading the urban architecture of Belgium for seedy Hollywood and the California desert.
At the center of the story is Marty (Colin Farrell), a fledgling alcoholic screenwriter whose offbeat friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) is part of a clumsy dog-kidnapping operation with a free-spirited associate (Christopher Walken).
When the pair swipes a beloved Shih Tzu from a ruthless gangster named Charlie (Woody Harrelson), however, they and Marty become targets for revenge. Meanwhile, Charlie becomes an inspiration for Marty’s script about psychopaths roaming the streets, with several other ultraviolent scenarios dreamed up by the trio also candidates for inclusion.
So who exactly are the psychopaths referenced in the film’s title? It could be argued there are more than seven, but that’s not really relevant, although there’s a half-hearted effort to keep track.
The script is episodic by nature as it blurs fantasy and reality, with some vignettes more amusing or compelling than others. Much of the film is dialogue-heavy, which makes the shocking jolts of violence more potent.
That’s probably McDonagh’s intention, yet while the film contains scattered moments of brilliance, too many of them aren’t fully developed. Plus, the central narrative thread involving the meandering male-bonding misadventures of Marty and Billy is less interesting than what happens on the periphery. And then there’s an ill-timed plot twist that is revealed well before the extended climactic showdown.
The film benefits from its casting choices, including some quirky supporting roles filled by the likes of Harry Dean Stanton, Tom Waits, Abbie Cornish and former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace). Walken is at his deadpan best as a Zen master of sorts, while Harrelson contributes plenty of freewheeling energy whenever he’s on screen.
McDonagh brings a unique comic vitality to his films, and Seven Psychopaths is no exception. But while the film is never tedious, it also isn’t as clever as it aims to be.
Rated R, 109 minutes.