Saturday, January 20, 2018
Movies

'Seven Psychopaths' is ultra-violent but frequently, distastefully entertaining

By Steve Persall

Times Movie Critic

Two hit men stroll along a reservoir, waiting for their target and bantering about Moe Greene's gunshot eyeball in The Godfather. It's the kind of scene Tarantino imitations pummeled into squish fiction with repetition, and for a minute Seven Psychopaths looks like more of the same.

Two blood sprays later, we're not so certain. Two hours later, we're not sure what we saw.

Writer-director Martin McDonagh's followup to his more cohesive In Bruges is a middle finger to cliches Pulp Fiction wrought, while garishly reveling in the same hyper-ironic, pop referenced ultraviolence it lampoons. It's also a self-indulgent inside Hollywood joke, smugly calling attention to the fact that it's a movie about movies, making it less of one. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang comes to mind.

Yet for all its scattershot ways, Seven Psychopaths is frequently, distastefully entertaining. McDonagh calls Hollywood's bluffs about how graphic, abrupt and senseless movie violence should be, how little plot must connect the mayhem, and the way women in action flicks are merely obstacles to be gunned out of the way. On one hand, it's a daring protest. On the other, McDonagh just echoes what he's protesting.

There's a screenwriter hero, Marty (Colin Farrell), ready to stoop to anything to sell a script, and his loony buddy Billy (Sam Rockwell) willing to assist. Billy operates a dognapping business, stealing pampered pooches with his partner Hans (Christopher Walken) and collecting ransoms. One dog, a Shih Tzu named Bonny, belongs to short-fused mobster Charlie (Woody Harrelson), who'll pay his ransom in bullets.

Circling around this core crisis are other psychopaths of the title: a Vietnamese priest (Long Nguyen) plotting revenge for his family's deaths at My Lai, a Quaker father (Harry Dean Stanton) stalking his daughter's rapist, and marvelously haggard Tom Waits as a bunny-loving killer with a gruesome flashback to tell. The episodes only tenuously dovetail but that's the point; McDonagh wants a movie as random as its violence.

This is both a plus for Seven Psychopaths and its worst misstep. The episodic format allows Walken to play one scene addled, another wistful and others just plain weirder than usual for him. It's a fun performance as self-conscious as the rest of the movie, like Walken doing Kevin Pollak doing a Walken impression. The movie finds a degree of focus as Billy comes to fore, with Rockwell's gonzo winking at the proceedings.

McDonagh serves up several gems of audaciously violent humor but never makes a bracelet. It'll play better on DVD where chapters and psychopaths can be selected according to taste (I'd suggest Nos. 1, 2, 5 and 7). In a theater intact, it's a bloody mess. This may be McDonagh's way of working out his frustration with Hollywood but that shouldn't mean creating one for viewers.

Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365.

Comments
Extraordinary heroism deserves a less ordinary movie than ‘12 Strong’

Extraordinary heroism deserves a less ordinary movie than ‘12 Strong’

After 16 years of combat and counting, the war in Afghanistan gets a happy movie ending in 12 Strong, a thick slice of patriot porn.Based on a true story, 12 Strong rightfully celebrates the first U.S. Special Forces unit battling Taliban forces shel...
Published: 01/18/18
Updated: 01/19/18
What’s in theaters this week: ‘Call Me by Your Name,’ ‘Phantom Thread,’ ‘12 Strong’

What’s in theaters this week: ‘Call Me by Your Name,’ ‘Phantom Thread,’ ‘12 Strong’

OPENING FRIDAY:CALL ME BY YOUR NAMEAnother young man’s summer he’ll never forget is the core of Call Me By Your Name, a movie to likewise treasure. Luca Guadagnino’s coming out-of-age drama is a rare exception to familiar romantic rules.This film’s s...
Published: 01/17/18
Why ‘Phantom Thread’ is a bad fit as Daniel Day-Lewis’ final movie

Why ‘Phantom Thread’ is a bad fit as Daniel Day-Lewis’ final movie

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread is passionless window-shop cinema, each static tableau lovingly arranged for display and easy dusting. Its centerpiece is a mannequin, albeit played by Daniel Day-Lewis, whose gift for keeping anything interestin...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Coming-of-age love story ‘Call Me By Your Name’ is a rare treasure

Coming-of-age love story ‘Call Me By Your Name’ is a rare treasure

Another young man’s summer he’ll never forget is the core of Call Me By Your Name, a movie to likewise treasure. Luca Guadagnino’s coming out-of-age drama is a rare exception to familiar romantic rules.This film’s same-sex summer fling shared by a te...
Published: 01/16/18
Liam Neeson’s ‘The Commuter’ is terribly pedestrian action

Liam Neeson’s ‘The Commuter’ is terribly pedestrian action

Liam Neeson’s transportation troubles continue in The Commuter, ironically one of his more pedestrian action efforts.This time Neeson’s misshapen nose for danger leads him onto a train, after Non-Stop air travel, Run(ning) All Night and automobiles (...
Published: 01/10/18
Updated: 01/12/18
‘The Post’ lacks urgency in favor of saintly typecasting for Streep and Hanks

‘The Post’ lacks urgency in favor of saintly typecasting for Streep and Hanks

Steven Spielberg’s The Post is a fake news movie, a true story told phony to further an agenda. Some viewers won’t notice since Spielberg’s agenda includes defending First Amendment rights, celebrating female empowerment and sticki...
Published: 01/08/18
Here’s what Oscar voters will be looking at after the Golden Globes

Here’s what Oscar voters will be looking at after the Golden Globes

A fashion blackout and stirring calls to end sexism made afterthoughts of Sunday night’s Golden Globe winners. Just when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s choices mean more than they have in years.Timing is everything during movie awards seas...
Published: 01/08/18
What’s in theaters this week: ‘The Commuter,’ ‘Proud Mary,’ ‘Paddington 2,’ ‘The Post’

What’s in theaters this week: ‘The Commuter,’ ‘Proud Mary,’ ‘Paddington 2,’ ‘The Post’

OPENING FRIDAY:THE COMMUTERLiam Neeson has a particular set of MTA tickets in The Commuter (PG-13), tickets he acquired over a very long career selling insurance in New York. Tickets making rush hour a nightmare for people like him. This seat is Take...
Published: 01/03/18
Updated: 01/10/18
10 new movies to look forward to in 2018

10 new movies to look forward to in 2018

OPENING FRIDAY: INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY Don’t worry, the first wide release of 2018 isn’t a sign of things to come. It’s the horror sequel Insidious: The Last Key (PG-13), Chapter 4 in the paranormal activity franchise that went d...
Updated one month ago
‘I, Tonya’ nails the landing on Tonya Harding’s rough and tumble story

‘I, Tonya’ nails the landing on Tonya Harding’s rough and tumble story

Tonya Harding was America’s sweathog in a sport preferring sweethearts, an Olympic skater always competing on thin ice.Craig Gillespie’s hysterically accurate biopic I, Tonya sets up the punchline she became. Harding’s spiteful rise and spectacular f...
Updated one month ago