Martin McDonagh's 2008 feature debut In Bruges marked him out as a director to watch, being a smart, knowing take on the gangster genre. However, a couple of years and a handful of viewings later, it's easy to see how the sparkling chemistry between Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell as a pair of hitmen papered over the glaring cracks in the plot and the wisecracking verbal riffing between a top-notch cast just about keeps his second effort afloat.
From the off it's quite clear that Seven Psychopaths is essentially a Quentin Tarantino tribute movie with a big kiss blown to Charlie Kaufman's Adaptation along the way, and that's not as good as it sounds.
Colin Farrell plays Marty, a heavy drinking Irish writer struggling to complete a screenplay for a movie called Seven Psychopaths, whose best pal Billy (Sam Rockwell), is involved in a dodgy scheme which involves kidnapping dogs and having his accomplice Hans (Christopher Walken) 'find' the pampered pooches and return them to claim a reward.
This low-level scam is ticking along nicely until Billy makes the mistake of snatching a Shih Tzu whose owner Charlie (Woody Harrelson) happens to be a psychopathic mobster, which is where the movie begins its slow drift into the absurd.
A movie about a writer suffering from writer's block is one thing to deal with, but when someone starts to introduce stories within stories then the whiff of desperation is palpable.
Granted, McDonagh is more than capable of fashioning zippy one-liners and is well-served by a fine cast, Farrell and Walken in particular, but there's something fake and phony going on here which no amount of flashy cinematography can conceal.
Seven Psychopaths is a decent enough diversion, but nowhere near as clever as it clearly thinks it is, with the result that its smartarse knowingness comes in just about the right side of smug. Just about. HHHII
CELESTE & JESSE FOREVER Romantic Drama. Starring Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Elijah Wood, Ari Graynor, Chris Messina, Emma Roberts. Directed by Lee Toland Krieger. Cert 15A
This putatively 'edgy' romantic drama kicks off with the title characters, high-flying 'trend forecaster' Celeste (Rashida Jones) and underachieving man-child artist Jesse (Andy Samberg), cooing and making baby noises at each other in a particularly irritating manner.
The first and really the only twist comes during an embarrassing dinner with their engaged best friends when we discover that, rather than merely being an annoyingly smug couple they have, in fact, been married for six years and are waiting for a divorce to be finalised. But they still happen to be best buddies. Right.
Even if you can swallow that distinctly dubious premise, there's another serious problem at the heart of the film, namely that Celeste and Jesse are two of the drippiest and most unlikeable characters seen on screen this year.
Celeste's fussy control-freakery means we never really engage emotionally with her, while the boho buffoonery portrayed by Jesse is such a standard rom-com fallback that it's way beyond cliche.
The notion of looking at a relationship in reverse has been done before, and better (the witty (500) Days of Summer for example), and despite the occasional flash of decent writing Celeste & Jesse Forever lacks a true, caring heart, surely the basic requirement for this genre.
SO UNDERCOVER Comedy. Starring Miley Cyrus, Jeremy Piven, Mike O'Malley, Josh Bowman, Kelly Osbourne. Directed by Tom Vaughan. Cert 12A
I'm sure there's a circle of Hell involving an eternity trapped on a LUAS heading towards the Dundrum Town Centre surrounded by hyperactive 17- year-old girls squealing excitedly at even the most banal event and So Undercover offers a glimpse of this ghastly prospect. Even assuming you can get past the notion of Miley Cyrus as, wait for it, a tough, streetwise private investigator who's approached by an FBI agent (Jeremy Piven) to go undercover in a sorority house in order to protect the daughter of a potential witness in a mob trial, there's nothing here to offer anything but irritation for anyone over the age of, at a guess, 12. Apart from one truly bizarre line which references the French occupation of Algeria -- sure to go down a bomb with the target demographic -- this is as bland, fizzy and fuzzy as pink-coloured soda water. HHIII
THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS Action. Starring Russell Crowe, RZA, Lucy Liu, Rick Yune, Jamie Chung. Directed by RZA. Cert 16
'Presented' by Quentin Tarantino, whatever the hell that means, what we have here is a hopelessly inept, badly scripted and woefully directed mash-up of spaghetti western and kung-fu cliches brought to us by former Wu-Tang Clan rapper RZA. Quite what Russell Crowe is doing in this disaster is anybody's guess, but I'm prepared to punt that the loss of a large wager was involved. Truly dreadful and a definite contender for 'worst picture of the year'.
Improvisation may well have its place on the outer fringes of the jazz universe but it certainly doesn't belong in Arts Council-funded films, as Kirsten Sheridan's Dollhouse (Cert 16, HIIII) proves. A group of scobies break into a house in Dalkey and wreak havoc over the course of a night, but ultimately this tedious and tacky exercise feels like a series of youth theatre workshops stitched together with no thought or method whatsoever.