[Screen It]


(2012) (Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell) (R)

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Black Comedy: After his dog-napping friends steal a pooch belonging to a mobster, a screenwriter must deal with the ramifications as he tries to write his screenplay about a septet of psychopaths.
Marty (COLIN FARRELL) is an Irish screenwriter who lives in Los Angeles, is dating Kaya (ABBIE CORNISH), has a drinking problem, and is suffering some serious writer's block when it comes to penning his latest script that he's calling "Seven Psychopaths." While he could obviously garner some inspiration from news of a current serial killer known as the Jack of Diamonds killer, he's distracted by his friend, Billy (SAM ROCKWELL), who wants to write the script with him.

Billy runs a dog-napping scheme where he steals pooches off the street and then has his older and more philosophical partner, Hans (CHRISTOPHER WALKEN) -- whose wife Myra (LINDA BRIGHT CLAY) is in the hospital for cancer treatments, return the dogs in good Samaritan mode in hopes of collecting a handsome reward.

When Billy isn't doing that, he's trying to help Marty with his script idea. That includes running an ad for psychopaths that results in a visit from Zachariah (TOM WAITS) who once killed serial killers with his wife, Maggie (AMANDA WARREN), while also making up one about a Vietnamese Priest (LONG NGUYEN) who's hell-bent on getting revenge on Americans for the Vietnam War.

They get a current, real-life view of a psychopath when Billy steals the Shih Tzu belonging to L.A. gangster Charlie (WOODY HARRELSON), whose girlfriend, Angela (OLGA KURYLENKO), just so happens to be cheating on him with Billy. As Marty tries to figure out which stories to include in his screenplay, he must contend with the various ramifications of Billy's actions as his friend tries to turn the events into his own played-out-in-real-life movie.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Having experienced my fair share of writer's block, I can say that it isn't a fun or rewarding experience. After all, the best writing occurs when it feels like you're a cinematic medium who's simply transcribing some fabulous tale as you see and hear it, without any real conscious effort. The worst is when that creative conduit is blocked off, resulting in the writer trying to force the material as if against its will. The result of that often is a blank piece of paper or just a lone, blinking cursor stranded by itself on a computer screen.

Sometimes, the solution is simply to immerse yourself in your subject matter and thus find some new angle, idea or spark that will reignite the creative process. As there weren't any time travel trips around when I was penning my related script many moons ago, that option wasn't available to me (sadly, my future self didn't show up and leave some sort of inspiring hint for me).

But if you're writing a screenplay titled "Seven Psychopaths," the source material would seem to be fairly abundant, even if spending time with such people might not be the most appealing thing a writer could contemplate doing. Such is the case for the protagonist (Colin Farrell) in the film of that very name, one that marks the sophomore feature film from Martin McDonagh (who previously brought audiences "In Bruges"). Considering the director also penned the screenplay, one can only assume he's experienced some version of writer's block, although it's not known if he hung out with psychopaths for his inspiration here.

If he did, I doubt many of them operated in the sort of black comedy mode McDonagh is striving for, although some of them easily could have been imitating the thugs in Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction." You know, the ones who converse in ways more interesting and intelligent than expected, usually during some downtime in between bouts of fairly pronounced violence. Those types do populate this film that ultimately ends up being less than the sum of its parts, although some of those are admittedly funny, quirky and/or imaginative if decidedly adult in nature.

The film starts in standard Tarantino (or wannabe) mode, with two hitmen discussing who they've heard of being shot in the eye. As they do so, a masked man sneaks up behind them and pops one slug each into their respective noggins, thus setting the overall tone of what's to follow. And that's of our alcoholic protagonist being stuck on his work, all while his pal (Sam Rockwell again playing an off-kilter character) dog-naps pooches and has his partner in crime (Christopher Walken playing, well, his standard onscreen alter-ego) return them for a reward.

This time, however, they've stolen the only thing that an L.A. gangster (Woody Harrelson) loves more than crime and killing people, his beloved Shih Tzu. He's obviously another of the psychopaths, and as he makes his way after the dog-nappers, Rockwell's character tries to help his pal write his script. That includes running an ad for local psychopaths (that results in a visit by Tom Waits playing one such person) along with stories of a Quaker father hell-bent on avenging his daughter's murder and that of a Vietnamese priest who wants his own sort of revenge.

Their tales end up being told and visualized in smaller vignettes that get mixed in with the main story, of which Rockwell's character wants to have end on his terms and not that of the scribe. Yes, this is one of those movies where characters do and say things that impact the direction of the story in which they appear.

Film geeks and those who haven't seen many of these sorts of pics before might love what's presented (and the irreverence of it all, some of which I found amusing). On the other hand, those who have seen this done before (and better) might end up agreeing with one of the character's assessments of spending time with psychopaths. Late in the film, he states that such people might seem interesting at first, but then get sort of tiresome after a while.

While I didn't hate any of it, the film couldn't shake its poseur vibe for me (it feels like the many Tarantino knock-offs that flooded the scene after his initial success years ago) and didn't end up amounting to much.

As long as you don't mind the material, it all goes down fairly easily and the performers are all game for what's asked of them. But it's one of those offerings where only a few signature moments will maintain a place in your memory, and writer's block won't get the blame for that. "Seven Psychopaths" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed October 3, 2012 / Posted October 12, 2012

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