Monday, October 20, 2014

'Kill Me Three Times' (2014) directed by Kriv Stenders

Even now, after Simon Pegg has conclusively 'made it', the sight of him on the big screen feels a bit mischievous. For many he'll always be Tim from Spaced, the sight of him conjuring up happy memories of late night Channel 4 and feeling like you're part of a secret gang for knowing about the show.  This vague feeling of possessiveness towards him can swing both ways: on one hand his screen presence comes preloaded with an enormous amount of audience goodwill, on the other when he's in a bad film you feel a bit let down.

Kill Me Three Times isn't a bad film. But it's not very either.  Pegg plays Charlie Wolf, hitman extraordinaire.  He dresses in black, wears a handlebar moustache and drives a muscle car crammed with high powered weaponry.  Wolf is essentially a cartoon assassin; his style influenced by European spy comics and pulp cinema.  He's also completely amoral; willing to take any dirty job as long as there's a hefty payday at the end of it.

As Wolf puts it; "I don't die.  I thrive!", which'd be an upbeat philosophy if he wasn't at that very moment dying on the sunny West Australian coast.  The question is, how did he get there.  The answer proves to be a complex web of murder, adultery, blackmail, idiocy, insurance fraud and, most interestingly, dental record falsification. Traversing this knot of a plot are stone-cold psycho Lucy (Teresa Palmer), her incompetent, gambling addict dentist husband Nathan (Sullivan Stapleton), the scummily violent bar owner Jack (Callan Mulvey), his adulterous wife Alic (Alice Braga) and hunky but dim mechanic Dylan (Luke Hemsworth).

Like a snowball growing in size as it tumbles down a mountain the body count quickly racks up.  In fact, by the time the snowball crashes into the base it's stained crimson red and has legs, fingers and bits of ragged scalp poking from the top of it. This is a filmic universe where the Grim Reaper has finely honed senses of comic timing and dramatic irony.  That, in combination with a cast of self-important scheming bunglers puts us firmly in wannabe-Coen brothers territory; the plot playing out like an antipodean spin on Fargo.

If you're going to stick closely to an established tone, you could pick far worse directors to ape than the Coens, but Kill Me Three Times feels like a bargain basement DVD ripoff of them.  The main problems are with the lacklustre writing; each character has a one-note personality (bumbling, violent, scheming, protective etc) that gets hammered on relentlessly until the character pops it (sometimes by actually being hammered on).

Looking a touch Zardoz there.
This isn't helped by dialogue that's serviceable at best.  Characters state their intentions and then carry them out, leaving precious little room for performative nuance.  Teresa Palmer does a decent job of combining slightly shopworn beauty with homicidal ambition and makes an effective bully of Sullivan Stapleton's moronic dentist.  There's a few weak links; but Alice Braga can be forgiven for being stuck in a part that gives her zero interesting qualities and Luke Hemsworth cements his status as a lesser Hemsworth (how many more damn Hemsworths are there anyway?!).

There's a similarly slack approach to the visuals; though the scenery is often quite beautiful it's shot in a perfunctory way.  The general tactic is to impress with a postcard perfect establishing shot, then revert to a bog-standard framing technique that drains these otherwise rather scenic locations of any verve.  The interiors fare a bit worse, overlit and with a whiff of cheap soap opera to them.

The one thing that makes this experience even vaguely worthwhile is Pegg, obviously relishing playing an out and out bastard.  He plays Wolf as a normal guy who's watched a few too many movies; pretending (even to himself) that he's really a sinister, ultra-competent omniscient badass while actually being a bit dim and extremely lucky.  At the very least Pegg is having fun and it's difficult to begrudge him choosing to spend two weeks in a sunny Australian paradise playing a comedy hitman.

That aside there's very little to recommend about Kill Me Three Times.  It doesn't ever tip over into terribleness but coasts along in a mediocre, passionless gear until the credits finally roll.  There are worse ways you could spend your time, but there's also far better ones too.


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