Hollywood needs another movie about petty-crime gone deadly-wrong like it needs another Tyler Perry adaptation. We get the former in Seven Psychopaths, but what keeps it from ever feeling like a routine exercise is that its worn premise is reimagined by Martin McDonagh, the playwright-turned-filmmaker following up his so-black-it’s-a-new-color-beyond-Black comedy In Bruges
As such, Seven Psychopaths feels less like a crime thriller, and more like a meta-attempt at recreating the genre through a lens similar to the one used to create Adaptation. But more importantly, Seven Psychopaths is unique for being stronger as a comedy than as an action flick.
Our seven psychopaths are all lined up around Marty (Colin Farrell), a screenwriter suffering from writer’s block while attempting to come up with a new screenplay called “Seven Psychopaths” (any guesses who this character is modeled after?). As he tries to come up with some material for his script, he finds himself surrounded by plenty of inspiration – his buddy (Sam Rockwell) accidentally pisses off an unstable mobster (Woody Harrelson), setting off a series of deep-shit situations that leave everyone’s lives in danger.
That’s how things start, anyway. But things deviate from the traveled path as McDonagh begins to toy around, defying expectations and getting violent without fetishizing it (some exceptions, in which McDonagh directly parodies the traditional action movie route, are notable and incredible exceptions).
Seven Psychopaths feels like an experiment in genre and, as such, never quite figures out what it’s going for. Is it a meditation on violence? Is it a high-minded monologue on blockbusters? We only get subtle hints at whatever idea is running the show here, without a coherent conclusion.
But these shortcomings are more than made up for by a supreme supply of laughs. McDonagh lightens up after the bleakly hilarious In Bruges, but the humor found in Seven Psychopaths is still less flamboyant than the average comedy – more immediate than the dark wit of a Coen Brothers script, but just as wryly clever. This is the kind of film where you’re still thinking of a line a minute after it’s delivered onscreen, trying to understand how it’s so goddamn funny.
No doubt, the laughs owe a lot to some superb cast members. Sam Rockwell is off his rocker, blasting stupidity and optimism at levels he hasn’t reached since he portrayed Zaphod Beeblebrox in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He’s exuberant enough to run the show all by himself, but it’s stolen by Christopher Walken in a performance that is reliably kooky but surprisingly emotionally deft – his tragicomic old man is strangely but strongly heartbreaking.
They provide the creamy frosting on top of McDonagh’s difficult story. It’s hard to tell how much of the plot serves as genre critique that is at times difficult to parse, and how much of it is just silly. But even if it’s supposed to be nothing but giggles, I can’t remember laughing so hard at the movies in a long time.