Fate has stacked the cards against young Francie Brady (Eammon Owens), a working class Irish lad in the warped era of Kennedy vs. Kruschev. His mom’s a suicidal loony, his dad an alcoholic has-been trumpeter. “The Lone Ranger” and “The Fugitive” share the TV with “duck and cover” anti-Commie propaganda. Francie escapes by Huck Finn-ing around with his best Tonto, Joe. But when Francie over-enthusiastically bullies the town dweeb, then obsessively threatens the dweeb’s mom, Joe bails. Busted, Francie has his first run-in with the law and from there, it’s a short trip to a strict boys’ school full of pedophilic priests, electroshock in a mental hospital, and an inevitable downwards spiral towards slaughter.
Heavy-duty downer, were it not so wickedly funny. Sure, you could say “terminal cancer” in Francie’s Irish brogue and it would sound hysterical, but there’s more to this film than people talking funny. Intermittent sight gags randomly pop up – bet you didn’t know the Commies were actually bug-eyed aliens â€¡ la “Buckaroo Banzai”? – while the dark narrative isn’t about to prevent surreally comic episodes of cinematic Dadaism. Finally, all but the most devout and humorless Catholics will cop a guilty chuckle from Sinead O’Connor’s Virgin Mary, springing to life from haunted ceramic statues like a cheesy “Superfriends” cartoon character and consistently misguiding Francie.
The film’s horrific conclusion is as uncompromising as it is inevitable and, unfortunately, ever-more topical. Fortunately, like “Lebowski,” “The Butcher Boy” has far too much wicked fun to preach.