Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Seven Psychopaths, Pitch Perfect

Seven Psychopaths
Pitch Perfect

Martin McDonagh's "Seven Psychopaths" is the latest in a seemingly endless stream of ultraviolent comedies with high-toned, non-sequitur dialogue between the bloody murders. Despite the presence of "In Bruges" star Colin Farrell, only rarely does "Seven" attain the farcical momentum or genial ingratiation of that, McDonagh's best film. Too often the writing aims for an epic, "Usual Suspects" grandeur while achieving only occasional absurdist laughs. Christopher Walken turns in a toned-down, effective performance, and Woody Harrelson makes an excellent psychopath-among-psychopaths, but "Seven" remains more a concept than a fully inhabited film.

On what planet does the terrible "Pitch Perfect" take place? Anna Kendrick (age 27) portrays Beca, an incoming "Barden College" freshman who, at an activities fair (in which the male a cappella group pops out of bushes to perform impromptu numbers as if they lived in the opening credits to a sitcom), reluctantly joins the female a cappella group, desperate to rebound from a humiliating performance at last year's nationals. Beca's new roommate doesn't speak to her - no reason why, the roommate has other friends - just one of many unfunny creations of the script. Beca mopes around in a state of oblique guilt, like Annie Wilson on "90210" (whom she resembles).

To judge by the script, this is a major university at which a cappella outranks all sports in popularity. There is no indication whatever of academic life transpiring. The biggest social event of the season is a "riff-off" among the four or five a cappella groups on campus, a scene so embarrassingly executed you want to hide your eyes. Periodically, the two top groups (the male Treblemakers and Beca's Bellas) meet at state and regional tournaments. These are commentated by hapless Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins in a thinly veiled facsimile of Fred Willard's iconic Buck Laughlin from "Best in Show." It is unclear for whom the two are broadcasting (there are no signs of cameras televising the performances), if they are at all.

Along the way, Beca's taboo romance with a competitor from the Treblemakers follows an arc of leaden predictability. Ditto for the eventual comeuppance meted to Abby, the prissy, tradition-bound leader of the Bellas who thinks their road to fame lies in Ace of Base's "The Sign" rather than Beca's edgy (giggle) DJ mixes. And you'll stop counting the number of "aca" jokes - as in "Acascuse me?" If the prospect of two hours of those excites you, GFI. The rest of us may find one or two offhand laughs in the throw-everything-at-the-wall script, but not enough to keep "Pitch Perfect" from being true torture.

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