Dark comedies, even at their most blood-soaked and mean-spirited, only actually shock if they make us care about the characters' fatal misfortunes -- or, at the very least, if their onscreen survivors convince us they care.
Barney Thomson, the directorial debut of Scottish actor Robert Carlyle, is littered with corpses, dismemberment and misanthropy. Shot in stark greys by Fabian Wagner, it's true to its dour Glasgow setting. But it operates in such an exaggeratedly heartless world -- even parents of the deceased can't be bothered to mourn -- that we can laugh at untimely demises without remorse. It's never more than superficially disturbing, but what it lacks in boldness it more than makes up for with rude, vibrant wit.
Carlyle stars as Barney, a reviled barber who lives with his sourpuss mom (a divinely scabrous Emma Thompson, shrouding any trace of elegance in an angry hunch and an unkempt ruby-red hairdo). Two workplace altercations lead to two dopey accidental casualties, and soon Barney finds himself the chief suspect in a serial-murderer pursuit.
Co-written by Richard Cowan and Colin McLaren, the film is catnip for fans of Scottish profanity ("Get fucked," "Go fuck," etc.), and if you have a tin ear for the brogue, fear not: There are subtitles. Carlyle's Barney carries the impetuousness of his Begbie in Trainspotting, but it's infused with much wheezing and whimpering, which makes him the perfect foil for Ray Winstone's lumbering, enervated detective; it's like watching an incompetent Petrovich interrogate a hypersensitive Raskolnikov. And whenever things drag, the buoyant pop soundtrack kicks in like a tonic -- Roy Orbison's downbeat yet goofy "Blue Bayou" is the perfect accompaniment to a bungled corpse-drowning mission.