SEVEN PSYCOPATHS (15) ****
Wildly entertaining, but letdown by the finale
IRISH playwright Martin McDonagh hit gold four years ago with his feature debut In Bruges, as smart and funny a slice of hitman hijinks as you'll ever see.
It's a tough act to follow, and while he has managed to craft something highly engaging and amusing with this follow-up, it has nothing like the lasting impact of his first film.
McDonagh's star from In Bruges, Colin Farrell, returns here as Marty, a struggling Los Angeles screenwriter, who is too quick to take advice from his best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell), who likes to feed him crazy plot ideas.
Billy meanwhile has a nice line in dognapping with his partner Hans (Christopher Walken), as they steal local mutts and return them for the reward.
But when one of the pooches they pinch turns out to be a Shih Tzu owned by Woody Harrelson's crazed gangster, all hell breaks loose.
The psychopaths of the title are introduced at various points throughout the film, some of them forming part of the up-front narrative, and some of them existing only (or so it seems) in Marty's script.
These stories are dark and devilish, and shown to us in hilariously gory detail, as the likes of Harry Dean Stanton as a vengeful Quaker show up to both entertain and drive the main story forward.
A first half liberally sprinkled with these tales is quite superb, atmospheric and pacy and very funny. It's a post- Tarantino web of Hollywood in-jokes as the lines blur between fiction and reality.
This self-referential approach extends to its own themes and theories, daring to say that psychos in movies are tiresome, or that misogyny is fine when you're winking at your audience to let them know that it really isn't.
Perhaps, because he's an outsider, McDonagh is too keen to bite the hand feeding him than truly delivering a knockout story of his own.
But if there's one thing Seven Psychopaths can't be faulted for, it's the number of laughs it provides and the absolute joy of watching these actors do their stuff, with Walken and Rockwell in particular at the very top of their games.
If Walken can be accused of simply turning his Walken-ness up to 11, well there's nothing wrong with that, as he takes already good lines and turns them into something special with his trademark mischievousness.
Sadly it never quite crystalises into something truly memorable come the underfed finale, one that only seems more of a letdown when you consider how elaborately yet neatly all the elements of In Bruges came together.
It's a rare film that can be so problematic yet still provide so many pleasures. Wildly entertaining it may be, but ultimately Seven Psychopaths isn't much more than, dare it be said, a shaggy dog story.
Director: Martin McDonagh
Running time: 110 mins
THE ORANGES (15) **
A good cast, thoroughly wasted
IN suburban New Jersey, the Wallings (Hugh Laurie and Catherine Keener) and the Ostroffs (Allison Janney and Oliver Platt) are neighbours and long-time friends.
The Wallings have already been having some problems in their marriage, and these problems are sent into orbit when Laurie begins an affair with the Ostroff's 20-something daughter Nina (Leighton Meester).
It's the kind of set-up Woody Allen has been peddling for decades, but given an odd sheen of sitcom superficiality that makes it glib when it should be scathing, yet nowhere near funny enough to justify its misjudged tone.
Just to add to its shortcomings, this dreary domestic drama is for some reason narrated by the Wallings' daughter, who barely appears in the main narrative, which simply adds to the sense of a good cast, thoroughly wasted.
Director: Julian Farino
Running time: 90 mins
CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER (15) ***
A good attempt at replicating When Harry Met Sally
WHEN we first meet Celeste and Jesse (Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg), they're a playful, easygoing couple.
But we discover they're actually six months separated and about to get divorced, though they've stayed good friends and hang out all the time, something their respective friends think is very odd.
Of all the recent attempts to replicate the dynamic of When Harry Met Sally, this is the one that works best, though it does deal in a lot of the same areas, as they hook up, fall out and have disastrous dates with other people.
There's also more than a hint of the Ross and Rachels about it, and it drags on a bit as the resolution approaches.
But it throws up some fun scenarios and Jones (who also co-writes) and Samberg are a good pairing, matching sympathetic performances to well-drawn characters.
Director: Lee Toland Krieger
Running time: 92 mins
I, ANNA (15) ***
A scrappy little thriller
IN A grey and forbidding London, lonely Anna (Charlotte Rampling) is a regular at speed dating events.
Meanwhile a body is found in a flat, with Gabriel Byrne as the sympathetic cop investigating and trying to ascertain whether Anna, a complex and fascinating blend of contradictions, has anything to do with it.
As the layers of the puzzle are peeled back, this becomes part murder mystery, part examination of lost and damaged souls and part police procedural, and these elements blend well.
For the most part it's a scrappy, itchy little thriller that builds with style, adding questions as it goes, examining grief with a coolness that never threatens to become hysterical, even as the plot developments start to tend towards the obvious.
It starts better than it ends, but the accomplished cast carry it through.
Director: Barnaby Southcombe
Running time: 91 mins