TIFF Review: Seven Psychopaths

Seven Psychopaths (2012, directed by Martin McDonagh)

Once upon a time in the land of Hollywood, after the usurper king Quentin the Loquacious had unleashed Pulp Fiction on the world, a host of lesser talents tried to make star-studded ensemble crime comedy/drama/thrillers with titles like Six Heads and Two Days in Duffel Bag Valley While You're Dead in order to carve out their own little fiefdoms. They were pretty much uniformly terrible, and mostly disappeared without leaving much of a trace in the collective unconscious aside from a vague sense of nausea at the thought of ever watching another hackneyed star-studded ensemble crime comedy/drama/thriller again.

So, naturally, the demented mind behind In Bruges decided to make his next film a star-studded ensemble crime comedy/drama/thriller. Only McDonagh made it mostly a comedy, and a meta-comedy making fun of star-studded ensemble crime comedy/drama/thrillers at that, and that decision pretty much saves the film.

Now, that's not to say Seven Psychopaths is a great film, or really even a very good film. The "plot" involves a drunken sot of a screenwriter named, ahem, Martin (played with his usual slightly ditzy charm by Colin Farrell) who's trying to write a movie called, ahem, Seven Psychopaths but is having trouble finishing it because he's kind of sick of writing about violence and death and just wants to know why the psychopaths can't talk through their differences instead of resorting to gunfire and bloodshed. His best friend Billy Bickle (a perfectly loopy Sam Rockwell), who wants to co-write the script with him, keeps trying to push him forward by pointing him towards some real-life psychos including a masked lunatic who kills only mid- to high-level members of the Italian mafia or the yakuza, a man who grew weary of being part of a Bonnie and Clyde-meets-Dexter couple who killed serial killers (Tom Waits in a fantastic little extended cameo) and a Quaker who torments the man who murdered his daughter into committing suicide and then follows him to hell by slitting his own throat. I imagine you've spotted a pattern there. Billy is in the dognapping business with Hans (Christopher Walker being, well, himself), but they run afoul of the head of the crime family (an over-the-top Woody Harrelson) Psychopath #1 has been targeting when they take his dog by mistake. Paths cross, mayhem ensues, bodies pile up etc etc etc.

If that sounds like a dumbed-down Adaptation, well, it kinda is, right down to Billy's insistence on getting "his ending". But Seven Psychopaths manages to carve out an identity of its own, so that the similarities don't make it seem like a retread. McDonagh, as with In Bruges, has written some crackling dialogue and handed it over to a cast that knows what to do with it, so even if the story doesn't really go anywhere and the big reveals get telegraphed from a mile away the movie still plenty entertaining enough to carry you past all the rough edges and slow spots.

I feel like I should dismount with some sort of labored "seven psychopaths out of 10!" closing line here, but honestly it wouldn't rate more than six and a half. Whatever. Seven Psychopaths is an entertaining, amusing time waster - no more, no less.

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