With its blend of low-rent gangster cool, high-body-count hipster violence, smart-mouth dialogue, inspired casting and a blissfully retro soundtrack at odds with the onscreen mayhem, Seven Psychopaths might have been a groundbreaking film -- in 1992. As it stands, despite some clever touches and one surprisingly moving performance, it just feels like leftover Quentin Tarantino or Elmore Leonard, repackaged and reheated for a new generation.
Colin Farrell is Marty, a struggling Irish screenwriter in Hollywood, who has only been able to come up with an eye-catching title for his latest work -- Seven Psychopaths -- but zero ideas to go along with it. That's when his buddy Billy (Sam Rockwell) suggests he riff off something he read about in the paper: two hit men slain in the Hollywood Hills by a masked killer.
Marty and Billy, who works with Hans (Christopher Walken) to steal rich people's dogs and return them for the reward money, soon find themselves dropped into the world of real-life psychopaths after the Shih Tzu of a local mob boss, Charlie (Woody Harrelson), is nabbed. Charlie wants his dog back, and he's willing to do anything to get it.
From there, the fictional world in Marty's head and the real-world consequences of nabbing the wrong dog from the wrong guy collide, and you end up with more psychopaths than you can shake a straitjacket at.
Along the way, we get a rabbit-loving Tom Waits, a weirdly vengeful Harry Dean Stanton and the chance to hear Farrell's real accent. It's all set in a Southern California that practically shimmers off the screen.
But, as envisioned by writer/director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges), Seven Psychopaths offers lots of quirks but doesn't give you any characters to care about, except for one, Hans. As a man whose outward eccentricities conceal the fact that he's dealing with a wife (Linda Bright Clay) battling cancer, Walken digs beneath his persona's odd-man caricature and reveals a tenderness and sadness not seen from him in years.
If only the rest of the film were as affecting. Like Marty, McDonagh came up with a great title. But, also like Marty, he should have realized that he needs more than that.