A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Something terrible must have happened to John Michael McDonagh, the screenwriter and director, after he made “Calvary.” That 2014 movie, a darkly comic murder mystery and a relentlessly but purposefully morbid exploration of mortality and faith, made me pretty eager to see whatever its creator had up his sleeve next. But this ostensible satire on American cops, crime movies, American values or lack thereof, intellectualism and anti-intellectualism, racism, and so on, is so hackneyed, tired, labored and overstuffed with contempt not only for all of its targets but also its own self that one gets the feeling that the talented Mr. McDonagh has gone mad with rage. Possibly during dealings with the American film industry.
Still, that’s no excuse for a movie that begins with a mime joke. Yeah, a mime joke. You just can’t get enough of those, can you? The film’s protagonists, Terry and Bob, played by Alexander Skarsgård and Michael Peña respectively, are police detectives in nice blue suits driving a cherry vintage American car and chasing a mime. Terry asks Bob if a mime will make a sound if you hit it with a car, so they’re that kind of cops. They find out, and to justify the gag, a bag of cocaine is found on the mime, who does make a sound and who also bleeds from the mouth after being hit with the car, which is undamaged.
In the early scenes of the film, McDonagh shoots a lot of bright flat, tableaus, and accompanies them with corny horns-blaring Cop TV Show music. One gets to suspecting that he’s going to cough up something like a feature-length version of the video for the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.” If only. The shooting style is meant to accentuate a certain absurdism: Terry and Bob are such awful cops that the crude jokes they make require a certain arty underpinning. Walking into the New Mexico police station where they work, they observe, “Look at all those fu**ing a**holes working”; “Suckers.” Terry has a thing for Glen Campbell. Bob and his wife enjoy trading literary aphorisms and debating their origins. After finding a guy who’s pegged to be the driver in an upcoming heist, Bob accepts that perp’s bribe of a flat-screen TV and an XBox; the next scene shows the TV mounted above another TV; on the bottom screen, his two kids, including one comically obese one, are playing video games, while on the screen above it, Bob is trying to watch “Out of Sight,” a film, he explains to his wife is by the “Jewish-American auteur” Steven Soderbergh. His wife corrects him: “He’s Swedish.”
Do you find any of this funny? Because there’s so much more of it. Here’s an exchange between the film’s villain, Lord James Mangan, and his fey henchman, Birdwell (Caleb Landry Jones, who clearly studied Gary Graham’s work in Paul Schrader’s “Hardcore,” as well as every homophobic stereotype in a ‘70s Ken Russell film):