Despite an off-color performance by Simon Pegg as a psychopath with a smile, Kill Me Three Times wastes a perfectly good ensemble cast on a crime caper that lacks motivation, purpose and surprise. Not only that, but Kriv Stenders’ Australian thriller begs the question on everyone’s mind – there’s really another f*cking Hemsworth brother? Wait, that’s just me? Sorry, right.
The real question on everyone’s mind is how do you waste such a charmingly devilish performance by Pegg on more of the same colorful dramatics that everyone has been attempting to recreate since Pulp Fiction? Australia may be a beautiful oasis, and Stenders sure shows off those crystal-clear Aussie beaches whenever he and cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson get a chance, but you can only dazzle an audience with shimmering blue waters and clay-toned gulches for so long.
Pegg plays Charlie Wolfe, a busy hitman taking care of his latest job while holed up in a sleepy Australian town. He’s originally called in to spy on a bar owner’s unfaithful wife (Alice Braga), but when evidence surfaces that shows the woman as a cheater, her husband (Callan Mulvey) pays Wolfe to assassinate her.
Meanwhile, a dental surgeon (Sullivan Stapleton) and his wife (Teresa Palmer) attempt to commit insurance fraud, and their plan ends up getting intertwined with Wolfe’s investigation. Making things into quite the mess, Wolfe tries to navigate the sticky situation without calling too much attention to himself before the local law enforcer (Bryan Brown) catches on – like that even matters. In this game, everyone has a secret, and the local police might just be the most corrupt.
Kill Me Three Times builds intrigue by casting the likes of Pegg and Stapleton in roles foreign to their typical talents. Assuming Stapleton would take on a role more fitting to an assassin, we’re instead treated to actors who are forced outside of established comfort zones. On one hand it works, as Pegg proves he can even make a womanizing murderer sparkle with his cheeky charm. But on the other hand (cough, Stapleton, cough), the product meanders without liveliness. Granted, Stapleton plays a fidgety dentist with a mountain of gambling debt who can’t exactly handle the crushing pressures being forced from all sides (an angry bookie, Brown’s intimidation, and his wife’s own foxiness), but his blue-collar-criminal persona lacks a grounded tenacity.
Stapleton’s cartoonish actions mirror the zany mentality of James McFarland’s screenplay, which admittedly is an ambitious spiritual successor to films like Smokin’ Aces and The Boondock Saints – a comparison that might have some of you running to the hills. While this sometimes equates to a good chuckle (again, I’ll cite Pegg’s quick wit and morbid hilarity), other instances of suspect badassery come off like a cheap Saturday morning cartoon. Everyone hides some sort of dirty secret, be it Mulvey’s hit or Braga’s cheating, but the inclusion of Brown’s crooked cop turns Kill Me Three Times from a twisted web of craziness into an outlandish game of robbers and more robbers. There’s no morality grounding any separate act, as evil is triumphed only by a lesser evil in most senses (except for Hemsworth’s role as a white knight). While fun and frantic, the vile actions of many people start boiling together into a singular, diluted flavor.
The biggest theme of Kill Me Three Times can be whittled down to a simple point – karma is one sonofabitch. Amidst all the fraudulent claims, knife fights, bullet holes, and explosive blood (Stenders pays close attention to violence), McFarland weaves an R-rated fairytale where everyone learns their lessons by accepting a bullet to the head, fiery death, or one of any other unsavory methods of “understanding.” Lush Australian settings provide picturesque locales to house the flurry of gunplay and deceit, from spacious mansions to sandy beach-house-views, but these natural distractions still can’t combat the inconsequential hatred teeming throughout Kill Me Three Times. Seriously – is Charlie Wolfe’s abusive turn wholly necessary in establishing his dark streak? He kills people, for a living. I think that choice alone hammers home what a maniac Wolfe truly is.
Kill Me Three Times might make for a indulgent little time waster when it plays on basic cable, but while the fractured subplotting may seem like a playful down-under mystery, all the flashiness is just for show. Pegg is the shining star of Stenders’s maddness, oozing the machismo of a hardened killer walking unaffected by the massive explosion roaring behind him, and his success comes as no surprise given his childlike enjoyment when blasting targets with his sniper rifle. There’s no balance to Kill Me Three Times though, as the seediness keeps monotonously piling itself on until all we’re left with are a slew of corpses and a spy-surfer-rock soundtrack that’s got a rather infectious groove – which, sadly, is not enough.
Kill Me Three Times is Simon Pegg's show to steal, which is a shame, because he gets lost in an ambitious ensemble cast that fails to find the same success.