Back in the late '90s, a little more than a year after Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction exploded filmmaking, Hollywood started churning out Pulp Fiction knockoffs. For some reason, movies in this subgenre had numbers in the title or otherwise indicated lists: Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead, 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag, 2 Days in the Valley. Arguably the best of those second-rate Tarantino riffs was Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, but more than 15 years later, this forgotten subgenre has a new champion in Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths.
Those who came away from McDonagh's In Bruges in a state of pleasantly surprised awe—and that should be just about everyone who's ever seen In Bruges—will probably watch Psychopaths in a state of heightened expectations. Those people will be disappointed. What McDonagh is doing here is a self-referential riff on crime movies, a lark of a comedy that pokes fun at Hollywood formula filmmaking while still affectionately conforming to the formula of Hollywood filmmaking.
Colin Farrell stars as Marty, an Irish screenwriter with a drinking problem and a great title for a screenplay, Seven Psychopaths (get it?), that he hasn't started writing. He's the weirdly passive central figure in a dust storm of eccentric criminals who kill and steal and fuck and bum around Los Angeles like the Hollywood-style psychopaths that they are. Farrell is the spearhead for a cast that showed up to have fun: Woody Harrelson is a crime boss who oozes unhinged menace, nobody does dumb and weaselly better than Sam Rockwell, and Christopher Walken reigns over all as a small-time dognapping huckster with a few deadly secrets. A stolen shih tzu is the MacGuffin that drives the plot. Characters bitch about how Marty's script for Seven Psychopaths doesn't have one believable woman in it. (They're right.) It's a fine example of a certain kind of Hollywood movie—violent, pop-culture obsessed, and stuffed with willfully weird characters—whose heyday came and went well over a decade ago.