*** (out of four)
When all else fails in the screenwriting process, write a movie about your struggles to write a movie.
Yet “Seven Psychopaths,” writer-director Martin McDonagh’s follow-up to the Oscar-nominated “In Bruges,” hardly qualifies as meta for meta’s sake. While the character Martin (Colin Farrell) attempts to write a screenplay called “Seven Psychopaths” but prefers not to indulge in the clichés and brutality that surround cinematic killers, the filmmaker Martin pursues the possibility of a different sort of diabolical. He’s drawn to darkness but intrigued by light.
That means a shootout watched by a cute little Shih Tzu and a movie that accomplishes the difficult task of convincingly balancing a great deal of blood with a passionate, soft heart for dogs. Ruthless killer Charlie (Woody Harrelson) wants his kidnapped Shih Tzu back, no matter how many less-important humans have to pay for it.
The scams of kidnappers Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Hans (Christopher Walken) usually generate rewards and grateful owners (remember the David Spade comedy “Lost and Found”?), not a bounty on their heads. Martin lands in the middle of this mess, as if his own drinking problem, unhappy girlfriend (Abbie Cornish), and the newspaper ad Billy places looking for real-life psychopaths to provide material to inspire Martin’s screenplay weren’t enough.
“Seven Psychopaths” doesn’t maintain the consistently giddy imagination of “Adaptation,” or the originality of Christopher Nolan representing himself and the moviemaking process (among other things) in “Inception.” In some ways, McDonagh’s playing a game with “Seven Psychopaths.” Sometimes it’s fun and funny; other times it’s more straightforward, like learning a game’s rules.
Regardless, “Seven Psychopaths” is anything but the same old thing, anchored by a fantastically weird, energetic, Rockwell-y Sam Rockwell performance and several scenes of excellent, Tarantino-esque anxiety. Through Martin, McDonagh admits his struggle in writing female characters. In this violent onscreen world, he can take solace that he’s not alone in that, and has more than enough skill and ideas to compensate.
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