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Film review: Get psyched for laughs in Seven Psychopaths

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 9, 2013

Review Comedy

SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (M18)

110 minutes/Opens tomorrow/ 3 1/2

The story: Screenwriter Marty Faranan (Colin Farrell) has writer's block and struggles to complete his latest work, the crime drama Seven Psychopaths. His best friend, actor Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell), tries to spur him on by various means, while at the same time making a living by kidnapping dogs with accomplice Hans Kieslowski (Christopher Walken). After Bickle steals a shih-tzu belonging to violent gangster Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson), serio-comic consequences follow for the trio.

Anglo-Irish writer-director Martin McDonagh made his first feature, 2008's In Bruges, one of the smartest, funniest movies of that year, the old-fashioned way - with crackling dialogue, superb performances and memorable characters.

Next to In Bruges' finely crafted structure, this is a Frankenmovie, assembled from half-formed conceptual fragments, glued together with self-referential jokes and throwaway one-liners.

One character scolds Marty for his poorly written female characters, for example, in a wink at the poorly written female characters in this movie.

There is not a large number of Hollywood in-jokes, but when they appear, the audience is taken out of the world of the film.

"You can kill women in a movie, but you never harm an animal," says Bickle at one point.

That post-modern knowingness and digs at the culture of Los Angeles constantly threaten to tear down the fourth wall.

The saving grace, though, is that McDonagh is never glib and the lines and ideas are funny and clever enough to be forgiven for their self-indulgence.

Just when the story threatens to fly apart, McDonagh reins it all in, thankfully. He has his actors to thank. The ensemble team - which includes frog-voiced musician Tom Waits in a key supporting role - is well cast.

Farrell's strong performance as the sweary, drunk Irish screenwriter clears him from the sins of his last work, the sci-fi turkey Total Recall (2012).

But it is Rockwell's gleefully amoral Billy who steals the scenes.

And it is crucial for the audience to buy into Billy's madcap behaviour because it drives the plot.

This movie takes stylistic risks and not all of them pay off - it is 20 minutes too long and lacks coherence and it feels as if McDonagh has tacked on four false endings before the final one.

But those are minor quibbles with a work bursting with small, entertaining moments.