Well, as you were. One of the films you've probably missed your chance to see in cinemas was Barnaby Thompson's Pixie. Like the Liam Neeson movie under consideration last week, this one was partly financed by Ingenious Media – I'm not sure whether this was a coincidence or not – and, confirming my suspicion about the narrowing of opportunities, both of them were preceded by virtually an identical set of trailers: Kenneth Branagh dusting off his moustache and Belgian accent, Colin Firth weepy, Blumhouse's Craft remake and peculiar mash-up of Freaky Friday and Halloween, etc, etc. (I wonder how many of these will still manage to get a theatrical release.) I forgot to mention – perhaps my subconscious was heroically trying to shield me – another movie which was on the way, which looks like being a vehicle for Melissa McCarthy to do her usual schtick. I don't have a problem with this per se, but it also seems to prominently feature James Corden as the voice of a super-computer. Friends, if we all get out of this year intact, one of the things I will take away from it is the sudden realisation that I don't need to brutalise myself by going to see movies with James Corden in them, and I'm damned if I'll watch another.
Not that I'm swearing off dodgy movies entirely, of course, or I probably wouldn't have gone to see Pixie. This is Thompson's first movie as sole director, but as a producer he has a track record going all the way back to Wayne's World, nearly thirty years ago. Since then he has had a hand in a bewildering variety of films, including Spice World, The Importance of Being Earnest, Fisherman's Friends and a version of Lassie – of the few of these that I've seen, none particularly impressed me, if we're honest, and some of them were honestly really poor. However, I knew none of that when actually going to see the new movie (which is probably just as well).
Pixie is set in Northern Ireland and mostly concerns the doings of the title character (played by Olivia Cooke) and the various men (young and old) who wind up in her orbit. One of these is her stepfather Dermot (Colm Meaney), who is the local gangster kingpin. The fact that this is going to be a knockabout crime thriller aspiring towards black comedy is established when two young men kill some drug dealers dressed as Catholic priests (despite the fact that two of them are supposedly Afghan) and steal a huge quantity of drugs from them.
After some rather convoluted plotting has unfurled itself, the drugs end up in the possession of two entirely different young men, Frank (Ben Hardy) and Harland (Daryl McCormack), who are not the sharpest or most self-aware tools in the shed. Luckily, they are acquaintances of Pixie, who blackmails them into cutting her in on the drug deal they are hoping to set up: her share will finance her going to art school in America, apparently.
However, the original owner of the drugs, one Father Hector McGrath (Alec Baldwin, giving a textbook demonstration of a phoned-in performance from an imported American star), would like them back, and in addition Dermot has also sent one of his people in pursuit of the trio, not realising one of them is his own stepdaughter…
Well, when the lights came up at the end of Pixie and we were sitting there watching the closing credits, I turned to my companion, feeling compelled to share my gut reaction. 'People have got to get over wanting to be Quentin Tarantino sooner or later.' My friend is perhaps a little too young to have lived through that era where every aspiring film-maker and their dog was trying to do a knock-off of Pulp Fiction – things like Two Days in the Valley, The 51st State and Killing Zoe – so it took him a moment to see what I meant, but the odd thing about Pixie is that it does feel very much like a script from the mid-to-late nineties that it's taken them twenty years to find the financing for.
If this were actually the case, I might even suggest they could have usefully spent the intervening time polishing the thing up, because while films about laid-back Irish chancers out for a bit of craic are all very well, they still need to have reasonably sharp and cohesive screenplays. This one has one of the most fumbled opening acts I can remember seeing, with what feels like a lot of needless faffing about – or at least poor exposition – and characters being introduced in an incorrect order. It does all settle down eventually, but it's still a needless demand on the audience's goodwill.
Even then, the film constantly feels like it's on the verge of unravelling completely, with jokes not really connecting, significant bits of storytelling just not there and inconsistent characterisation being used to keep the plot going: Pixie herself is a cool, smart, plans-ten-steps-ahead kind of girl, except when it's necessary that she isn't. After meandering about amiably for over an hour, the film suddenly seems to realise it needs to have some kind of climax, and so one is rapidly contrived: though just what the principal characters' plan is never quite becomes clear – the director seems much more interested in a slo-mo shot of a screaming nun firing a pump-action shotgun.
As I say, it is kind of amiable, and it does have some very able actors in it like Colm Meaney and Dylan Moran (who gets a very funny cameo). Front and centre all the way through, though, is Olivia Cooke, whose career I have followed, not without interest, since she appeared in the Nu-Hammer movie The Quiet Ones in 2014. She does her usual fine job, but this is not one of the better films on her CV. 'What do men see in irritating free spirits?' wondered Julia Roberts' character in Larry Crowne; well, it's clearly still a live question, as the film is named after Cooke's character for a reason, and we are all clearly supposed to fall in love with her. She's an odd mixture of butt-kicking feminist and Holly Golightly – streetwise, ambitious and determined, but also caring and not without her vulnerable side (with the faintest suggestion of a slightly kinky sexual availability too). I have to say the character didn't really seem plausible to me, despite Cooke's best efforts – and even if she had been, I would probably have found it difficult to warm to someone whose repertoire includes dealing in drugs, swindling her so-called friends and the odd cold-blooded murder.
Then again, none of the film really feels like it has any connection to the real world, even the real world we were expecting at the start of the year. It's not the worst film of its genre that I've ever seen, but it has nothing like the genuine warmth and texture and really good jokes of a film like The Guard (another black comedy thriller set on the island of Ireland). Olivia Cooke, possibly not for the first time, passes the movie star test by being very watchable in a not very good movie, but this is still really a waste of potential in most ways that count.