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May 10, 2017

“Seven Psychopaths” more disorienting than psychotic

With a moniker like “Seven Psychopaths” dripping with demented possibilities, it seems impossible to go wrong. But sadly, Martin McDonagh’s latest flick evokes more head-scratching bemusement than anything else.

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Struggling screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell) is stumped on his latest project, an opus he calls “Seven Psychopaths” for which he only has a title and a few distinct characters, including a dynamite-toting Buddhist and an Amish throat-slasher. Beyond that, Marty is stumped and his screwball best friend, Billy (Sam Rockwell), is desperate to help him by any means necessary. Billy and his partner in crime, Hans (Christopher Walken), unintentionally get themselves and Marty wrapped up in the seedy underbelly of the L.A. crime circuit when they abduct an innocent ShihTzu belonging to unstable Hollywood gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson).

When Charlie and his goons come looking for blood is when the zany hijinks ensue and the trio of Marty, Billy and Hans go to extreme lengths to dodge the mobsters and give Marty the inspiration he needs to finish his screenplay. That is, if any of them make it out alive.

What starts out as a promising take on Hollywood noir somehow mutates into a schizophrenic romp through a bevy of different storylines, each more erratic than the last. Director McDonagh seemed to have some lofty ambitions for this film as a meditation on philosophical comedy, but sadly “Seven Psychopaths” fails to impress as much as his 2008 tour de force “In Bruges.”

While the fragmented narrative formula has been successfully executed in a few films over the years (Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” for instance) the haphazard wandering of “Seven Psychopaths” goes beyond artistic into the esoteric. The manic jumble of interconnected storylines is difficult to follow at its best and arbitrarily complex at its worst. Though each of the minor plot lines are amusing in their own right, it is hard to fully appreciate them when they are laid out in such a confusing context.

The humor of this movie lies primarily in the dialogue as the characters swap sharp wisecracks with the frenzy of deranged hummingbirds, the most laughable quips coming frequently from Walken as quirky Hans. Preening in a caricature of dementia, Walken’s performance is so hilariously deadpan that he frankly steals the show from the likes of Farrell and Harrelson, who themselves give admirable (but by no means great) performances. Farrell, who has so often played the suave pretty boy in his career, is in an entirely new role as a disheveled writer struggling with an alcohol problem that he refuses to accept no matter how much the other characters snidely comment on it. The most commonly used gags in the movie are jabs at Farrell for being both Irish and a writer, and therefore inevitably a drunk, but the charm gets old quickly despite the hilarity of Farrell’s staunch denial.

With numerous cameos from the dregs of Hollywood including Michael Pitt, Gabourey Sidibe and Abbie Cornish, this movie is certainly at no shortage for star power. The most notable guest appearance comes from the indelible Tom Waits who is delightfully unsettling as a serial killer very attached to his pet rabbit. However, the humorous advantages these bit roles provide sadly do very little to save the movie from the realm of forgettable comedies.

Though there are some genuine belly laughs in this movie, “Seven Psychopaths” is ultimately overwhelmed by its own craziness. Special effects aficionados will appreciate the more gratuitous scenes of violence, including graphic recreation of an exploding head and numerous gunshot wounds, but otherwise there is nothing particularly special about this flick. The intricate spiderweb of storylines overpowers the movie’s intent and sadly proves to be misleading in terms of the provocative title. Playing out like a nightmarish fever dream of deranged attempts at ingenuity, “Seven Psychopaths” is good for a few hearty laughs but is otherwise too bewildering to be taken seriously.

Emily A. Brightman can be reached at ebrightman@student.umass.edu.

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