"SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS" — ★★★ — Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits; R (strong violence, bloody images, pervasive language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use); in general release
The writer-director of "In Bruges," the playwright turned filmmaker Martin McDonagh, sells out and makes his first Hollywood film, "Seven Psychopaths," a commentary on selling out. Well, that and Hollywood's obsession with psychopaths. And his own.
True to title, it's about seven psychopaths and a screenwriter named Marty writing a movie about them.
But as a possibly psychopathic character tells the writer (Colin Farrell), "YOU'RE the one so fascinated by psychopaths. After a while they get tiresome, don't you think?"
Like generations of great talents "going Hollywood" before him, McDonagh takes his shot at having it both ways. He hired a quartet of the coolest character actors in the business and revels in the presence of Farrell, Chrisopher Walken, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell. He imitates and takes a blood-stained swipe at genre nerds such as Quentin Tarantino or Joe Carnahan, and their movie lover's style of bloody-minded movie. He has characters comment on situations and scenarios as they "rewrite" scenes, endings and shootouts for the screenplay Martin is sure will be big box office.
And in case we've missed McDonagh's bemused remove from all this, he makes Linda Ronstadt's "Different Drum" the theme song of his writer-hero.
"But" — as that song goes — "don't get me wrong, it's not that I knock it," because "Psychopaths" is profane, gruesome and hysterically over the top. The sheer pleasure of watching Walken work with his disciples, Harrelson and Rockwell (maniacally mannered here), and watching McDonagh's alter-ego, Farrell, in another McDonagh role worthy of his talents, is undeniable.
But after a while, even those pleasures wear thin.
Marty is blocked, at a loss for fleshing out his next script, which only has a title — "Seven Psychopaths." His antic actor pal, Billy (Rockwell), tries to help, with tales of a Quaker stalker (Harry Dean Stanton) who follows the man who murdered his daughter into hell itself. A Buddhist (Vietnamese) psychopath? What would motivate him? And so on.
Billy and Hans (Walken) are running a little dognapping-for-reward-money scam so that Hans can care for his terminally ill wife. And they've nabbed the wrong dog, a shihtzu beloved by mobster Charlie (Harrelson), who is willing to kill to get that dog back.
There's a serial killer stalking Los Angeles — well, stalking L.A. bad guys. He's the Jack O'Diamonds killer, a masked avenger who shows up at opportune moments, shoots people and leaves playing cards on his victims.
And if that's not enough to work with, Marty interviews a "real" psychopath (Tom Waits), a grizzled old man who misses the wife who led him on a cross-country murder spree years before.
Walken gives his pop-eyed glare and his patented colorful line-readings and eccentric pronunciations to every scene — "halucin-O-gens." Farrell wears a pretentious swoopy L.A. screenwriter haircut and acts hurt every time somebody criticizes his script-in progress. No, the onscreen Marty and off-camera Martin (McDonagh) can't write a realistic female to save their lives. So Abbie Cornish, Gabourey Sidibe and Olga Kurylenko just have glorified cameos. They're set decor, place-holders to give us a break between the next funny-violent tour de force/ tour de profanity moment involving the leads.
But as long as you remember that this is just a "Smokin' Aces" for the literary-minded, you'll be fine.
"Seven Psychopaths" is rated R for strong violence, bloody images, pervasive language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use; running time: 109 minutes.