If Quentin Tarantino had directed a feature film starring the Three Stooges, roughly, you'd get something like Martin McDonagh's sadistically hilarious crime comedy "Seven Psychopaths."
Instead of a trio of Stooges poking people in the eyes and battering their heads with sledge hammers, two-by-fours and iron skillets, we have seven -- or at least six -- self-styled psychopaths shooting, torturing and maiming people with similar comic results. Except that the victims don't always walk away unscathed by the violence here.
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"Seven Psychopaths"★ ★ ★ ½
Starring: Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Tom Waits, Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish
Directed by: Martin McDonagh
Other: A CBS Films release. Rated R for drug use, language, nudity, sexual situations, violence. 109 minutes
For McDonagh, an Irish playwright whose first movie "In Bruges" won critical praise and popular appeal, "Seven Psychopaths" represents a collision of trashy, 1970s American exploitation movies with high-minded, socially critical stage plays.
Where else would you find a pacifist as the main character in a quirky, ultraviolent crime comedy? Or a serial killer who only kills serial killers?
"Seven Psychopaths" opens in Los Angeles with a vintage Tarantino-esque scenario: Two chatty hit men (Michael Stuhlbarg and Michael Pitt), shooting the breeze instead of targets for the moment, never even notice the figure slowly walking toward them from behind. Two quick bullets later, the hit men are dead, we're shocked and the movie's bloody, blackly comic tone is set.
This brings us to Marty, an alcoholic, pacifist Hollywood denizen played by "In Bruges" star Colin Farrell. He wants to script a movie, but he has a writer's block of SPF 200. He only has a title to his latest project, "Seven Psychopaths."
So, his possibly unstable best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) decides to help Marty. He takes out a personal ad asking for stories from real-life psychopaths to inspire Marty's work.
One psycho (Tom Waite) actually shows up at Billy's place. And he has an adorable pet rabbit.
"OK," Billy says. "You seem normal!" This movie does nothing if not redefine normal.
The main plot kicks in when Billy and his business partner Hans (Christopher Walken) make a tragic mistake. As professional dognappers who specialize in being handsomely rewarded for "finding" missing or abducted pets, Billy and Hans step into the Shih Tzu when they snatch a cute canine belonging to Charlie (Woody Harrelson), a murderous mobster with an unpredictable temper. (In an earlier time, Walken would have been given this tailor-made role.)
"Seven Psychopaths" almost approaches Tex Avery in its cartoonish disregard for human life and limbs. Yet, McDonagh attaches intelligent conversations to its less-than-stable characters who don't seem to be extremely aware of what they're actually saying about what they're actually doing. (Women keep getting killed by guys who talk about how sexist it is for women to be killed by guys.)
McDonagh explores the thin line between Hollywood reality and the real reality through Billy's obsession with wanting to launch an ultimate Hollywood fantasy shootout with Charlie and his murderous minions. What he gets is less than fantasy.
Harry Dean Stanton pops in for a brief appearance, along with Kevin Corrigan and Gabourey Sidibe.
Meanwhile, Coen brothers collaborator Carter Burwell supplies a score that imbues "Seven Psychopaths" with a self-effacing edge in a movie where the characters seem determined to efface themselves off.