A struggling screenwriter inadvertently becomes entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends kidnap a gangster's beloved Shih Tzu.
At a time when pop culture-savvy assassins run a dime a dozen, In Bruges, the first film from Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, registered as a brilliant anomaly: a literate, mordantly funny hit man movie that didn't lean on the standard Tarantinoisms. (If the director had a cinematic inspiration, it was more likely Stephen Frears's masterful 1984 film The Hit.) Seven Psychopaths, McDonagh's follow-up, strikes a much broader vein, melding parody, self-referential humor, and clever meta-fiction into one big splattery ball. Buckle up, basically. Colin Farrell plays an Irish screenwriter named, er, Martin who is terminally stuck on his latest script, an ultraviolent affair named "Seven Psychopaths." (We mentioned that this is meta, right?) Desperate for an ending, he turns to his lowlife friend (Sam Rockwell) for inspiration. As his new writing partner's suggestions get increasingly detailed, Martin realizes that the insanity is no longer constrained to the page. Tom Waits shows up at one point, because this is the kind of movie that this is. It takes a strong director to hold together this amount of whirling chaos, and McDonagh proves himself up to the task (mostly), with the game work from his leads abetted by vivid supporting turns from Kevin Corrigan, Woody Harrelson, and Harry Dean Stanton, whose brief appearance cries out for a spinoff all of his own. McDonagh's true ace in the hole, though, is Christopher Walken, who is simply astounding as an aging dognapper with one lulu of a backstory. Walken's ability to go way over the top has been well documented, but here he underplays, a decision that ultimately stabilizes the film's hurtling, streaky bursts of inspiration. No matter how goofy the movie around him gets, he's always one step beyond. --Andrew Wright