Australia. Directed by Kriv Stenders, 2014. Starring Simon Pegg, Sullivan Stapleton, Alice Braga, Teresa Palmer, Callan Mulvey, Luke Hemsworth, Bryan Brown. 90 minutes.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve never asked yourself the question, “What would a Quentin Tarantino movie be like if Simon Pegg played the Samuel L. Jackson role?” Well, finally that question has an answer: it would be exactly like Kill Me Three Times.
This is one of those films that doesn’t progress in chronological order and you’re not supposed to go into it knowing how all the characters relate to each other, but I will muddle through as best I can. Pegg plays Charlie Wolfe, a hired killer stalking a woman named Alice (Alice Braga), a dental surgeon named Nathan (Sullivan Stapleton), and Nathan’s receptionist Lucy (Teresa Palmer). Nathan and Lucy are clearly up to something, and it doesn’t look good for Alice. But what exactly is going on, and how it connects to drunken, bitter hotel owner Jack (Callan Mulvey), garage mechanic Dylan (Luke Hemsworth), and corrupt cop Bruce (Bryan Brown)…you’re not going to start finding these things out until the second act.
So, yeah, convoluted structure, snappy dialog, self-consciously retro soundtrack, stylized violence, awesome cars, hopelessly hip title sequences…have I compared this to Tarantino yet? I have? Long story short, don’t go into Three Times expecting something particularly fresh and inventive. The most original thing about it is that it takes place in Australia.
Well, that…and Simon Pegg. I like Pegg as an actor, but I do readily admit I find it easy to underestimate him. It’s not that I don’t think he has range; it’s more that his range often extends in directions I don’t expect it to go. He’s not an obvious choice for the charming, sociopathic Charlie Wolfe. Three Times‘s story and structure center around Wolfe although he’s very much a supporting character (if the film has a genuine protagonist it’s Alice, even though she doesn’t start taking the focus until the second act). Like Wolfe, this is a cynical bastard of a movie that’s never happier than when it’s hurting people.
Thus, the success of the entire film largely depends on Pegg’s performance, and he carries it off like Satan; Three Times works because he does. I don’t mean to minimize the contributions of the rest of the cast–particularly Stapleton, Palmer, and above all Brown, who’s probably the clearest villain in a film full of morally compromised figures. But most of the roles would work if the performances weren’t as good, because this is Pegg’s show.
Sadly, Pegg’s performance doesn’t quite counterbalance Three Times‘s biggest flaw, which is that it clearly apes the work of iconic, influential filmmakers such as (here it comes again) Tarantino or the Coen brothers without having the corresponding thematic depth. It’s a shallow film that’s perfectly happy operating entirely on a surface level, and I don’t sense any ambition stretching beyond being a dark, violent comedy with noir-ish elements.
And that’s perfectly okay; at the end of the day, there’s something to be said for pure entertainment value, something Kill Me Three Times has in spades.