May 2, 2001 at 12:00 am

Mark “Chopper” Read, at least as depicted in this somewhat-fictionalized Australian film based on his somewhat-fictionalized autobiography, is a sort of weirdly solicitous sociopath. He’s the kind of guy who will stab you in the neck or shoot you in the face, then spend five minutes apologizing with agitated sincerity as you’re writhing on the ground. He might even drive you to the hospital. This overgrown-kid aspect of his personality may explain why he’s such a popular figure Down Under; that and his comically self-rationalizing morality — Chopper only hurts people who need hurting.

Chopper’s writer-director Andrew Dominik is a graduate of music videos and commercials, and he keeps his film moving along at a nasty clip. As portrayed by Eric Bana, Chopper is charismatic in a scuzzy kind of way, fun to watch but not somebody you’d actually want to meet in real life. The film begins with the lovable dope incarcerated in a particularly squalid-looking prison. It quickly establishes its black-humor tone when he brutally attacks a fellow inmate and then goes into his remorseful act (or perhaps it’s not an act — you can’t tell with this guy). The large amount of gushing blood pumping out of the stabbee is also a key; this is an extremely violent film. Those who felt cheated when Tarantino panned away from the ear-slicing in Reservoir Dogs will appreciate Dominik’s unflinching look at the same sort of thing here.

Once out of prison, Chopper fancies himself a sort of junior G-man, out to punish criminals. There may be a message in here about the media glorification of unworthy types, and the final shot seems to signify that crime doesn’t really pay, but basically the movie is just fun in a vulgar, cheap-thrills kind of way, no more but no less.

Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward, Detroit), Friday through Sunday. Call 313-833-3237.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].