Twisty, ensemble-cast crime movies are a subgenre that has almost become predicated on how funny and dark they can be. Pulp Fiction sort of began the trend, as far as I can gather, but it was Snatch that really cemented both the tone and the style; these movies are full of weird characters, intertwining narratives, and a whole lot of violence. An example of this on the smallest of scales is the new Australian film Kill Me Three Times, which exists in a world where basically nobody else exists except for the characters involved in the story. It’s set against the giant, idyllic backdrop of Western Australia, like you’re seeing people doing a play outside a lot of times. It’s a weird little movie, but any film in which a handlebar-mustachioed Simon Pegg gleefully cuts a violent swath across the screen is at least worth a look.
Directed by Kriv Stenders (yes, the coolest and most Aussie-sounding name in the world) and written by first-time scribe James McFarland, Kill Me Three Times certainly feels like a first-produced screenplay. It has a kind of humorous nihilism that’s very prevalent in crime films of this ilk and, generally speaking, the characters don’t get out of things very well. The downside to a movie like this, and this movie specifically, is that it’s full of characters, but we don’t get to spend too much time with them before they all start trying to bump each other off.
The one we do get to spend ample time with is Pegg’s Charlie Wolfe, an English hitman who brielfly serves as our narrator; it’s his presence that signifies, starts, and finishes the action in just about every aspect of the story. He watches from afar and laughs as a woman named Alice (Alice Braga) is drugged by a dentist and his wife (Sullivan Stapleton and Teresa Palmer, respectively) and made to look like she drove herself off a cliff. Charlie is following her because her bar-owner husband (Callan Mulvey) has hired him to see if she’s cheating on him with the local petrol station owner (Luke Hemsworth), which she is. The dentist’s wife is the bar owner’s sister and she and her husband are trying to get insurance money to pay off the local loan shark, whose enforcer is the terrifying police officer Bruce (Bryan Brown). There, are we up to speed?
While the set-up is intriguing enough and the characters of Charlie Wolfe and Bruce are particularly effective, nobody else really has time to shine. The only “nice” people in the film are Braga and Hemsworth, and we’re only meant to like them because they’re in love and he doesn’t punch her like her husband does. Their shared screen time is limited and since they’re just “good,” they aren’t given as much to do when compared to the more duplicitous members of the ensemble. But this is what I said before about them essentially existing in a vacuum of sweeping Western Australian vistas. With the exception of a few people in one bar scene, it’s as though nobody lives or works anywhere nearby except for the aforementioned cast. Sure, the area seems pretty empty anyway, mostly full of beaches and roads, but it gives the film a weird isolation that doesn’t seem to fit with everything that’s happening. But, if you’re making a low-budget movie and can shoot somewhere pretty like that, I imagine you’d have to seize the opportunity.
Pegg is endlessly watchable and likable, and it’s really only in the third act, when he becomes more than an observer/instigator and works his way into the main plot, that I started to tune out. The film is a brisk 90 minutes and it may have actually benefited from a longer run time with more character moments, especially with Braga, who is ostensibly the lead of the movie even though she’s on the run or drugged for most of it. Brown definitely has ample time to shine, though, and is terrifying through his laid-back Australian charm.
Kill Me Three Times is a perfectly enjoyable, no-frills crime movie that benefits from a pretty though out-of-place location and some solid performances. It doesn’t aim too high and generally hits its mark, but it neither reaches the fever-pitch it strives for, nor does it live up to the pillars in the genre. That said, though, Simon Pegg with a gun is never a bad thing.