‘Seven Psychopaths’: Violent comedy leaves sour aftertaste

We’re watching a movie about an Irish screenwriter trying to complete a new script. So far he has just a title: “Seven Psychopaths.”

The title of the movie we’re watching also happens to be “Seven Psychopaths,” and it’s the new movie by the Irish screenwriter-director Martin McDonagh. Hmm. Might there be a bit of a autobiographical slant to this picture?

Well, I hope McDonagh’s experiences in the movie biz are not as freakish as those on display in “Seven Psychopaths,” which blends Hollywood cliches with gangster mayhem. The craziness is surely invented, although McDonagh’s disenchantment with Hollywood comes through loud and clear: This violent comedy carries a sour aftertaste.

Our screenwriter-hero is Marty, played by Colin Farrell, who starred in McDonagh’s brilliant “In Bruges.” Somewhat inexplicably, Marty’s got a best friend named Billy, a second-rate loser with terrible fashion sense who’s currently involved in a dog-napping business.

Just the kind of role usually played by Sam Rockwell, in other words, and Sam Rockwell plays it here, too. Billy and his associate Hans (Christopher Walken, in fine form) cross the line when they kidnap the Shih Tzu owned by a mobster (Woody Harrelson).

Billy’s also sleeping with the mobster’s girlfriend (Olga Kurylenko), but the Shih Tzu seems more important to its owner. Also hanging around is a peculiar man (Tom Waits, looking appropriately blasted) who carries a rabbit and has a strange story to tell.

There are many stories told in “Seven Psychopaths,” and storytelling is part of its subject matter. While all this madness is going on, Marty is trying to complete his script, which at times appears to be morphing into what we see on screen.

McDonagh’s “In Bruges” carried similarly wicked criticism of what we expect to see in movies, although that picture had a sense of gravity beneath the jokes. In “Seven Psychopaths,” Billy’s fantasies about how to finish the script are in line with the average insipid multiplex fare, and McDonagh’s attitude appears to be primarily sarcastic. He does everything but chide the audience for actually wanting to see a movie like this.

Maybe that’s why the one-liners tended to curdle for me, although the movie’s got some very funny passages. McDonagh’s a gifted writer of looping patter, and his films are structurally complicated in ways that reward a second viewing.

So there’s talent on display, and I did laugh during “Seven Psychopaths.” But somehow I couldn’t shake the sense of a snake chasing its own tail.

“Seven Psychopaths” (2½ stars)

An Irish screenwriter (Colin Farrell) struggles to finish a script, while his buddy (Sam Rockwell) gets them involved with mobsters. There are some very funny moments in this film by Martin McDonagh (“In Bruges”), although the Hollywood satire does leave a sour aftertaste.

Rated: R for violence, language, nudity.

Showing: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marsyville, Meridian, Sundance, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall.

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