Starring Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh. 18A. 109 min. Opens Oct. 12.
Some movies are appealing not for any matters of story or character, but for the chance they offer us to hang out with (at least by proxy) actors who are clearly enjoying themselves. Such is the case with Seven Psychopaths, a bloody black comedy that unites the In Bruges team of Colin Farrell and playwright-turned-filmmaker Martin McDonagh with a garrulous crew that includes Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, and Tom Waits. With all the guy’s-guy energy and camaraderie it exudes, Seven Psychopaths can seem less like a movie than a visit to the world’s coolest man cave.
Alas, that chemistry is sometimes the only thing that works in McDonagh’s sophomore feature. Farrell stars as Marty, a writer whose efforts to get going on a screenplay (also named Seven Psychopaths) are continually derailed by his pal Billy (Sam Rockwell), a sometime actor who runs a dog-napping ring with his dapper friend Hans (Christopher Walken). All three get in big trouble when a gangster played by Woody Harrelson comes looking for his beloved shih tzu, forcing the trio to flee into the Mojave Desert.
While McDonagh has justly attracted acclaim for plays that juice up familial conflicts and sociopolitical themes with a verbosity and velocity more commonly associated with Quentin Tarantino, his script here is mired in the ultra-violent, smugly self-reflexive wise-assery that was all too common in the years after Pulp Fiction changed the game. For McDonagh to use a screenwriter alter ego as this story’s hero is one of many elements that feel either too cute or too tired. Other attempts to ridicule screen clichés—like when the movie presents the grisly, histrionic shootout that Billy thinks would make the perfect ending for Marty’s script—don’t excuse McDonagh from lazily recycling them anyway.
With a lesser cast, such sins might’ve been unforgivable. But it also feels churlish to deny oneself the opportunity to enjoy the main trio’s memorably unhinged banter as they cluster around a desert campfire. It would’ve been even better if Billy gave us some of his peyote.