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Irish playwright Martin McDonagh writes plays in a style that's been labeled in your face theater. His writing mixes wit and savagery, and is almost always nominated for awards. His first brush with Hollywood, the short subject "Six Shooter" won an Academy Award two years ago. Well, now he's back with a feature film called "In Bruges."

Bob Mondello says it uses the Belgian city of Bruges to do things that are picturesque in several different senses.

BOB MONDELLO: A pair of Irish hit men looking like a disreputable Laurel and Hardy have been sent to Belgium to lie low after a job and await further instructions. Ken, the bigger of the two, wants to sightsee in what his guidebook describes as the best preserved medieval city in Europe. His buddy, Ray, sees history as just a lot of stuff that already happened, and would rather drink in their hotel.

Until, that is, Ray meets a local babe who's working on a film set, at which point he doesn't want to hang around for further instructions. He wants to get out and see this beautiful city.

(Soundbite of movie, "In Bruges")

Mr. BRENDAN GLEESON (Actor): (As Ken) I thought you didn't like Bruges?

Mr. COLIN FARRELL (Actor): (As Ray) I don't like Bruges, but I did already say I had a date with a Belgian lady in the Belgian film business which I did already say about before.

Mr. GLEESON: (As Ken) Just don't get into any trouble..

Mr. FARRELL: (As Ray) And this morning, and this afternoon we are doing what I want to do. Got it?

Mr. GLEESON: (As Ken) 'Course.

Mr. FARRELL: (As Ray) Does it involve culture?

Mr. GLEESON: (As Ken) Oh, we shall strike a balance between culture and fun.

Mr. FARRELL: (As Ray) Somehow I believe, Ken, that the balance will tip in the favor of culture.

MONDELLO: As you can hear, writer-director Martin McDonagh likes contrasts. He's cast the lumbering Brendan Gleeson and the diminutive Colin Farrell as his leads, crammed a storybook locale with lots of thugs and grifters, mixed sly humor with pools of blood, and found room on the sidelines for pregnant hotel owners, coke-snorting dwarves, and a film-within-a-film that lets him make lots of movie jokes. Pretty ambitious for a first feature, but critics have been calling him a stage Tarantino for a while, so maybe he's been building to this all along.

Certainly he's not shy about tweaking film conventions, and talking about them, too, as when, say, that pregnant hotel owner plants herself on a staircase between Ray and his by-this-time very angry boss, who's played by Ralph Fiennes.

(Soundbite of movie, "In Bruges")

Unidentified Woman (Actress): (As Character) Why don't you both put your guns down? Go home.

Mr. RALPH FIENNES (Actor): (As Harry) Well, that'd be stupid. This is a shootout.

Mr. FARRELL: (As Ray) Harry, I've got an idea.

Mr. FIENNES: (As Harry) What?

Mr. FARRELL: (As Ray) My room faces onto the canal, right? I'm going to go back to my room, jump into the canal and see if I could swim to the other side and escape.

Mr. FIENNES: (As Harry) Right.

Mr. FARRELL: (As Ray) If you go outside around the corner, you can shoot at me from there and try and get me. That way we leave this lady and her baby out of the whole entire thing.

Mr. FIENNES: (As Harry) Do you completely promise you'll jump into the canal? I don't want to run out there and come back in 10 minutes and find you (bleep) hard in the cabinet.

Mr. FARRELL: (As Ray) I completely promise, Harry.

Mr. FIENNES: (As Harry) So hang on, I'll go outside, then I go which way, right or left?

Mr. FARRELL: (As Ray) You go right, don't you? You can see it from the doorway. It's a big - the canal.

Mr. FIENNES: (As Harry) All right, Jesus. I just got here, haven't I? I tell you on the count of 1, 2, 3, go, okay?

Mr. FARRELL: (As Ray) Okay. Who says it?

Mr. FIENNES: (As Harry) Oh, you say it.

Unidentified Woman: (As Character): You guys are crazy.

Mr. FIENNES: (As Harry) Are you ready?

Mr. FARRELL: (As Ray) Ready.

Mr. FIENNES: (As Harry) Set.

Mr. FARRELL: (As Ray) Set.

Mr. FIENNES: (As Harry) One, two, three, go.

MONDELLO: I should note that "In Bruges" overdoes it at times, especially in the violent last half-hour, when you realize that a lot of things that had earlier seemed pleasantly offbeat and quirky are now falling so neatly into place that you can sort of feel an authorial hand guiding them.

Still, when the characters are talking rather than shooting, "In Bruges" is plenty engaging. And McDonagh's camera work is, too, as he makes the best-preserved medieval city in Europe look awfully pretty, right up until it's just a little too red.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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