Back in the 90s, Tarantino was the uber-foreheaded darling of Hollywood. Everyone mimicked his genre defining tributes to noir, exploitation and grindhouse. False gods sprung up everywhere to get their bit of worship. Films like Killing Zoe and Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead are probably gathering dust on your video shelf as you read this. If you thought those days were as dead as Marvin in the back of a car, you may need to have a word with Martin McDonagh, who brings us his follow up to In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths. A film so meta, it makes Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back feel restrained.
Ex-alcoholic, actor Colin Farrell plays alcoholic screenwriter, Marty Faranan, who is struggling to write his latest screenplay, Seven Psychopaths (See what they’ve done there). Aside from 24 hour social drinking, Faranan’s day-to-day existence is blighted by hyperactive Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell), an actor doesn’t think twice about knocking out a director before he’s even auditioned. Bickle is friends with deeply religious Hans Kieslowski (Christopher Walken), with whom he helps kidnap pedigree dogs to claim rewards from their tearful and thankful owners. When Bickle steals the over privileged pooch of local gangster, Charlie Costello, (Woody Harrison), Faranan finds himself caught in the middle whilst trying to finish his screenplay. Oh what a world!
The main issue, as we’ve hinted, is that from the bat Seven Psychopaths feels Tarantino-lite. Hell, it feels Roger Avaray-lite. Monologues are dished out, pop culture is dissected and everyone talks in quotes sure to be farted out at your local student union. It feels like we’ve been here before, and nothing new is being added.
Then there’s the meta-fiction that takes us by the hand to the streets of denouement. Like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, everyone piles in to point out film tropes, clichés and, in two acts of teeth grating back slapping, the third act is literally spelt out for us as Farrell’s tortured writer decries the very nature of crime and revenge flicks. His desire for an uplifting ending both in life and his screenplay is at odds with Rockwell’s passion for the classic Mexican Standoff.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’s deconstruction of noirs and action thrillers was effortless because it all played second fiddle to its engaging plot. Unfortunately, Psychopaths bases its entire second half around this conceit and by the time we get to a discussion about the weak female characters, you grow weary. Which is a shame, because there are some great moments to be had with all this fourth wall breaking nonsense. Rockwell throws himself into a pitch perfect manic monologue describing his own violent conclusion to Farrell’s screenplay, which just so happens to reflect the troubles our three heroes are facing. In fact, the monologues are by far the best parts. Tom Waits chews and spits his way through his life story as a serial killer, whilst Walken’s final monologue kept use rapt to the last syllable. However, it just isn’t enough.
Seven Psychopaths is so deliberate in its machinations that any good that you can sieve from its overlong running time is almost forgotten about two minutes later. For every brilliant monologue, there are poorly sketched characters (Woody Harrelson, we’re looking at you!). At its best, Seven Psychopaths has shades of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and at its very worse Shooting Aces aping the films it’s attempting to deride. Not miserable, not brilliant, we curse it with the badge of mediocrity.