Seven Psychopaths is about seven times more clever than most Hollywood comedies. And way more demented.
Men in movies are often just overgrown boys, and Seven Psychopaths (*** ½ out of four; rated R; opening Friday nationwide) is out to prove it — in the most twisted, hilarious way possible.
It's a devilishly smart film that not only sends up the hipster crime genre, but also makes a powerful statement about violence -- in a brilliantly satirical way.
Think Pulp Fiction with more laughs and cartoonish violence, crossed with an edgier Ocean's Elevenand touches of The Usual Suspects and Smokin' Aces. Then add a choice cast of actors as unhinged characters who could easily be 10-year-old boys -- if those boys were also mental cases.
Martin (Colin Farrell) is a boozy writer with the bare outlines for a screenplay called Seven Psychopaths. His best buddy Billy (Sam Rockwell) wants to help his friend. He proposes assisting with the writing, but what he really does is far more effective -- if completely whacked out.
Christopher Walken plays Hans, an older gent who deeply loves his critically ill wife (Linda Bright Clay) and operates a shady business in which he steals dogs in order to collect the rewards. Billy is his dog-napping partner, among other things. When they take Bonny, the beloved Shih Tzu belonging to maniacal gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson), Billy, Hans and even Martin become wanted men.
A few more pernicious nutcases skulk around the story's periphery. Tom Waits has a very funny turn as Zachariah, half of a psycho-killing duo who only murder other psycho killers. He shows up on Martin's doorstep, gently cradling a cuddly white bunny.
Walken has never been funnier, his eccentric delivery consistently comical. Farrell is the perfect straight man. Harrelson and Rockwell go way over the top — in a way that works ideally in this bonkers set-up.
Writer-director Martin McDonagh is an Irish playwright/filmmaker known for his verbose dark comedies. His distinctive turns of phrases and rapid-fire dialogue add heft to a story that ultimately doesn't quite come together. But it's so fun getting there that it's hard to care about the denouement.
Seven Psychopaths delves into the writer's struggle between wanting to create something meaningful and spiritually redemptive, and indulging in darker impulses. This plays out in the sagas of a vengeful Vietnamese monk (Long Nguyen) and a grief-addled Quaker (Harry Dean Stanton).
McDonagh has said his cinematic influences are directors Terrence Malick and Sam Peckinpah, and he seems to be exploring the fusion of those radically different sensibilities. But when not exploring that complex territory, he's a whiz at bizarrely funny, quotable lines: When offered a drink, Walken declines, saying: "I take peyote."
Seven Psychopaths is insanely witty. Along the way, it also assists in smoking out and identifying psychopathic characters. What could be more educational?