Review: Irish crime comedy ‘Pixie’ relies on Olivia Cooke to cast a spell
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“Once upon a time in the west … of Ireland,” we’re told, some low-level thugs rip off mid-level drug dealers and the high-level bad guys are eventually brought into the conflict. The spark is the titular Pixie (Cooke), whom we meet vowing vengeance over her mother’s grave, then come to see she is a connected, scheming charmer who can think on her feet. Two sort-of slacker buddies (Ben Hardy and Daryl McCormack), both bewitched by Pixie, get mixed up in it, thinking they can work out a deal despite their lack of bona fides and … let’s just say that Colm Meaney and Alec Baldwin are also around to play the bosses.
The film opens with big Quentin Tarantino energy, circa “Pulp Fiction,” which is almost never a good sign. Fortunately, “Pixie” leaves that inventive classic behind and finds its identity soon, thanks to its appealing star. By now, Cooke has put together enough of a body of work that it’s safe to say she’s good in everything. Sometimes much better than good. Why she wasn’t in the supporting-actress conversation this awards season for her soulful, pained turn in “Sound of Metal” is a mystery, and she was memorable in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” Soon (though not soon enough for George R.R. Martin fans), she’ll be one of the reportedly main characters in the “Game of Thrones” prequel series, “House of the Dragon.”
Here, Cooke, a Manchester native, convincingly turns Irish as the spirited young woman who beguiles most everyone but always seems to have a hidden agenda. As the poet sang, she will have her way. Many scenes seem constructed to do nothing but put her powers of persuasion on display, and Pixie seems to have loads of good fun doing so.
As the buddies, Hardy and McCormack serve as effective foils for Cooke. At times, it’s like a mini-road movie in which these semi-doofuses keep being amazed by the brutal realities of the criminal world Pixie effortlessly prances through.
Baldwin appears as — as he obviously should be — a murderous, drug-dealing, Irish priest. Unfortunately, he’s under-deployed in a small role. One is left wishing there was an epic verbal confrontation between him and Meaney, perhaps some Mamet-y fusillade of insults rather than bushels of bullets.
Sadly, the action is not well-handled. There are moments that seem played for laughs (an obvious John Woo quote in the form of a slow-mo backward jump while firing, for instance), but the visual jokes aren’t executed expertly enough to land. The violence lacks impact, whether emotional, visceral or humorous. And the culmination of Pixie’s quest seems completely mishandled, almost shrugged off in a way that undercuts the entire film.
“Pixie” isn’t exactly magical, but amusing enough whenever Cooke’s character casts her spell.
Rated: R for violence, language, drug content and some sexual references
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Playing: Available March 5 on digital and VOD; and in limited release where theaters are open; Cinelounge Drive-in, Hollywood, March 5 only
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