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Set against the majestic backdrop of Ireland’s wild west coast, Pixie is a trigger-happy comedy road movie that relies more on boorish energy than wit or charm. It marks the self-produced solo directing debut of veteran British producer Barnaby Thompson, whose long lost of credits includes the Wayne’s World movies, working here from a screenplay by his son Preston. The humor is broad and the dramatic tropes familiar, but in its favor Pixie does boast spectacular landscape and a starry cast including Olivia Cooke (Ready Player One), Ben Hardy (Bohemian Rhapsody, X-Men Apocalypse), Alec Baldwin and Colm Meaney. Paramount U.K. are handling British theatrical roll-out this week, with U.S. distributor Saban yet to announce a release date.
With its bickering gunmen, spaghetti western homages and generous helpings of comic-book violence, Pixie is firmly rooted in a post-Tarantino cinematic universe. The Thompsons also borrow from the savagely dark comedy playbook of Anglo-Irish writer-director Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and his brother John (The Guard, Calvary). Inevitably, the father-son duo can not match Tarantino for stylistic panache, or the McDonaghs in skewering wit and intellectual depth, which makes Pixie feel like an exercise in lightweight pastiche at times.
Cooke stars as the eponymous heroine, a young femme fatale with big plans to escape her sleepy Irish backwater roots and forge a bohemian new life in San Francisco. Using her inside knowledge as the stepdaughter of genial small-town gangster Dermot (Meaney), Pixie smartly manipulates various lovers and ex-boyfriends into staging a perilous drugs heist. When that goes badly wrong she is forced to embark on a wild road trip with two likable losers, Frank (Hardy) and Harland (Daryl McCormack), recruiting them to help score a big pay-off with the stolen drugs. Along the way the trio inevitably dabble in three-way sexual shenanigans and tussle with hostile foes, including notorious mobster priest Father McGrath (Baldwin).
Mostly shot in Belfast, Pixie is a lively caper, and intermittently good fun on a trashy escapism level. Cooke holds the film together with a quietly magnetic lead performance, even if her kick-ass sex-bomb character is one-dimensional male-written fantasy right down to her name: a total Celtic Pixie Dream Girl. The colorful background cast is peppered with stand-out cameo roles including Ned Dennehy as a psychotic hit-man and Dylan Moran as a witheringly sarcastic drug baron.
Baldwin, meanwhile, relishes every hammy stage-Irish line as a merciless clerical godfather who clearly hasn’t been inside a confession booth for years. A shotgun-blasting slow-motion shoot-out in a church also tips its hat to Sam Peckinpah and John Woo in brazen but enjoyable manner.
That said, Pixie frequently misses the target. Both as actors and characters, Hardy and McCormack are too boy-band bland to be engaging, their screen chemistry with Cooke fizzling when it should sizzle. Furthermore, the villains are so crudely drawn and clownishly inept that they drain the plot of any real menace. Some scenes of sadistic violence, including point-blank gunshots to the face and groin, also cross a line from cartoon carnage to casual sadism. It takes a more skilled director than Thompson to convincingly finesse this kind of tonally jarring material.
But Thompson Jr.’s script is the weakest link here. Thick with salty language and locker-room wisecracks, his dialogue is simply not as sharp or self-aware as it needs to be to alibi all of the twist-heavy plot’s sub-Tarantino fanboy homages and crude caricatures. Some delicious comic conceits, notably the depiction of the Catholic church as Ireland’s biggest criminal drug cartel, are teased but never fully explored. A glib pay-off, which attempts to reframe Pixie’s murderous rampage as a vengeful victory for wronged women everywhere, feels like a spurious grab at redemptive feminist moralizing. Pixie works fine as a picturesque comic romp, but a B-movie bloodbath this shamelessly shallow should never make the mistake of taking itself seriously.
Production companies: Fragile Films, Ingenious Media, Northern Ireland Screen
Cast: Olivia Cooke, Ben Hardy, Daryl McCormack, Colm Meaney, Alec Baldwin, Dylan Moran, Ned Dennehy, Olivia Byrne
Director: Barnaby Thompson
Screenwriter: Preston Thompson
Producers: James Clayton, Barnaby Thompson
Cinematographer: John de Borman
Editor: Robbie Morrison
Music: David Holmes, Gerry Diver
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