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by Piers Marchant | March 12, 2021 at 1:50 a.m.

A couple of decades or so ago, film critic Nathan Rabin coined the term "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" to typify what was then an irritatingly common trope in the male-centric Hollywoodized narratives at the time. That is, the sweet, beautiful young thing with a wild streak who exists solely to push the stodgy male protagonist beyond his comfort zone in order to break out of his doldrums and live life in a more exalted state. Don't think for one second this term was far from the filmmakers' minds in crafting this muzzy, Belfast-set homage to the kinds of unrepentantly violent comic romps that were all the rage in the '90s.

Pixie (Olivia Cooke), is a wisp of a thing, but full of explosive contradictions: She loves her gangster dad (Colm Meaney), but masterminds a drug heist that ends up starting a massive war with his arch-enemy, fellow drug runner Father McGrath (Alec Baldwin), putting him directly in harm's way; she professes a soft heart, but continually screws over literally every other character she encounters in the film; until, finally given the chance to avenge her beloved Ma's death properly, decides instead that's the perfect time to show mercy.

She also doesn't make much sense as a character, beyond acting as the primary manic agent of chaos in Barnaby Thompson's whimsical bloodbath. The film, as penned by Preston Thompson, is filled with dopey plot twists, and forced, over-manicured farcical anomalies (if the idea of a squadron of priests and nuns with automatic weapons squaring off against a small army of thugs wearing cartoonish animal masks makes you giddy, this is the film for you). It shoots for a loose Tarantino vibe, but misses its target badly.

There is genuinely too much nonsense to get into for a full plot summary, and no real reason to put you through it, so a quick synopsis instead: Pixie's initial plan was to use a couple of erstwhile boyfriends, who nominally run errands for her gangster dad, to steal a massive shipment of MDMA from Father McGrath's syndicate, and use the money to start a new life in San Francisco. Unfortunately, a pair of random best mates, Daniel (Chris Walley), and Harland (Daryl McCormack, a striking ringer for Pete Davidson), inadvertently spoil her plan, leaving the three on the run from McGrath's bunch; Pixie's awful step-brother, Mickey (Turlough Convery); and Seamus (Ned Dennehy), a bloodless assassin of her father's (indeed, at one point, with Pixie's endless impulsive prevarications, she seems to want to get half the island chasing after them, like a Labrador with a tennis ball in its mouth).

Apart from everything else, the film feels seriously dated by its '90s-era spin through gruesome violence, spiked with a plethora of characters who can't be bothered to pay much attention to what they're doing. The script is rutted with prison-rape jokes, fat jokes, and a few pedophilia bits, just for fun, and the dynamic of the characters never consolidates. Daniel and Harland are hot for Pixie one moment, brotherly with her the next, and screwed over either way.

For her part, Cooke, continuing to showcase her seriously broad range, sports a winning brogue, and seems to be having fun at least -- Baldwin, with a vastly less successful accent, isn't on screen long enough to make much of an impression -- but the shabbiness of the script keeps putting the actors in losing scenarios, and Thompson's direction leaves far too many scenes shapeless to be effective. With the notable exception of the literal last scene, in which Pixie strikes off on her own at last, she comes to be the regrettable living embodiment of Rabin's "dream girl" trope (and, yes, you can feel Thompson's winking at you for it), yet another decades-old convention that feels well played out by this point.

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79 Cast: Olivia Cooke, Ben Hardy, Daryl McCormack, Colm Meaney, Alec Baldwin, Dylan Moran, Chris Walley, Ned Dennehy, Turlough Convery, Olivia Byrne

Director: Barnaby Thompson

Rating: R, for violence, language, drug content and some sexual references

Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

Available for online streaming


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