It could very well be an unfair observation in my jaded mind, but 2020 really does seem to have been a singularly terrible year for comedy films. I loved Max Barbakow’s Palm Springs as it was genuinely smart in conjunction with being goofy and poignant, but it feels like gold amongst the dross in light of the Eurovision movie, Dolittle, a ludicrously bad Valley Girl remake and a slew of other flavourless and forgettable pictures. On the other hand, there are still some releases I need to get to, so it is arguably my ornery and cynical confirmation bias.
I nevertheless feel a little more justified in this assertion with the arrival of Pixie, a new comedy-thriller directed by Barnaby Thompson (also the man behind the St. Trinian’s reboots, which should give you an inkling of his eye for comedy gold). Anticipation was in moderate gear after a deceptively entertaining trailer yet, unfortunately, the finished product is 93 minutes of unimaginative, disjointed drivel that never gets it off the ground.
Pixie (Olivia Cooke) is the twenty-something stepdaughter of crime lord Dermot (Colm Meaney). Seemingly the apple of Dermot’s eye, Pixie is a confident and cunning femme fatale, high in ambition as she rubs shoulders with most of West Ireland’s roguish ne’er-do-wells and daydreams about methods to actualise her dream of relocating to San Francisco to study art. It has also been five years since Pixie’s mother passed away, though it is suggested that her terminal cancer wasn’t the final culprit in her demise and that a latent quest for retribution has fortified our heroine’s resourceful and spunky disposition.
While in lascivious pursuit of Pixie, soppy local blowhard Frank (Ben Hardy) and his best friend Harland (Daryl McCormack) inadvertently injure and almost kill Pixie’s thoroughly unpleasant and vindictive ex-boyfriend Colin (Rory Fleck Byrne). Colin and another pal had recently undertaken a very messy heist upon a cadre of priests who are rumoured to be big cheeses in the West Ireland drug trade and in cahoots with Dermot and Pixie’s stepbrother. With a satchel full of stolen MDMA, Pixie and the two lads high-tail it across the Emerald Isle with the intent of selling the gear for a huge profit and leaving their dulls lives behind, Dermot’s footsoldiers in hot pursuit. Amid these shenanigans, Father McGrath (Alec Baldwin, who actually pulls off a half-decent Irish accent), the leader of the aforementioned gangster priests, is getting some ideas regarding his whacked-out colleagues and purloined drugs, setting the stage for a dangerous showdown among the crime syndicates.
This film is a mess. Olivia Cooke is believable as an intelligent and sharp-tongued badass, but it doesn’t even begin to redeem the remaining barrage of turgid and unfunny events and characterisations gleaned from far superior crime-comedy efforts. Dermot and Father McGrath, two characters who should be of focal importance narratively, are severely underused to the extent that the burgeoning bad blood among the film’s Big Bad mobster elements feels entirely unengaging. We spend the majority of the film in the company of Pixie, Frank and Harland as they leap from one madcap situation to the next and get to know each other better. This predominantly takes the form of banter and gags that never land, rushed and underwhelming scrapes with thinly-written foes (seriously, both Ned Dennehy and Dylan Moran of all people deserve so much better), and the shoehorning of a clumsily conceived subplot regarding the mysterious death of Pixie’s mother.
One descriptor I’ve seen doing the rounds is ‘Father Ted by way of Tarantino’, which honestly could not be more insulting or deluded. What it actually pulls off can best be described as a muddled Young Adult riff on the work of the McDonagh brothers, imitating their violent, blackly comic and idiosyncratic approach to Irish culture and mentality. Everything about the cinematography and the soundtrack is drenched in the aesthetics of fodder-tier contemporary black comedies, a kind of cartoonishly kinetic camerawork that dominates just about every funny caper nowadays supplemented by a very predictable ‘hip’ score (don’t get me wrong, I think Marlena Shaw’s California Soul is a great track, but its utility here made me roll my eyes into near-blindness).
I couldn’t even recommend this one as a pick-me-up or a fun time-waster, and I’ll have to offer my apologies for wrapping up the review here but there isn’t a lot more I can say beyond what’s already been stated. It isn’t funny, it isn’t moving, it isn’t interesting, it recycles trope after trope and I exhaled with relief when the end credits finally reared their head. Consummately naff, avoid as if your life depends on it.