In Kill Me Three Times, Simon Pegg plays the mercurial assassin, Charlie Wolfe, who discovers he isn't the only person trying to kill the siren of a sun drenched surfing town. Charlie quickly finds himself at the centre of three tales of murder, mayhem, blackmail and revenge.
TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL: Before the stultification sets in, there’s something unnerving about watching a genre picture that might have been put together via algorithm. I’m not sure that a name has been coined for the kind of post-Tarantino, blood-drenched black comedy that flourished through the ‘90s and beyond. If this nameless genre dated quickly, that hasn’t stopped new entries, like Kriv Stenders’s Kill Me Three Times, from rolling in, eager to reproduce as formula what relied on idiosyncrasy for its success.
“How did it come to this?” Simon Pegg’s voice asks in the film’s opening scene, over an image of our anti-hero prone on the ground. “I don’t die; I thrive.” Flashback to Pegg again, in a black suit and Fu Manchu moustache, hunting some poor bugger through the desert with a high-tech arsenal, pausing a call to take the kill shot. Cue the twangy surf guitar that will bubble under the many kill shots to come. Cue 90 minutes of dutiful twisting and turning, crossing and bloody double-crossing, but not one moment of actual surprise. A hollowness rings through Stenders’ appropriations of style and tone, a dispassion that even the distinctly evocative setting—a stretch of gorgeously austere Australian coastline—can’t overcome.
Despite its twists, Kill Me Three Times favours beats over plot. It is the kind of movie in which the inter-relation of the characters is less important than that every cell phone have an ironically fruity ring tone—the better to punctuate a given scene’s impending bloodshed. But the basics go like this: Lucy (Teresa Palmer) and her husband Nathan (Sullivan Stapleton) plot an insurance scam that requires the death of Lucy’s sister-in-law Alice (Alice Braga) in order to pay off Nathan’s gambling debts. Alice’s affair with affable but broke mechanic Dylan (Luke Hemsworth) means her rich but alcoholic husband (Callan Mulvey) won’t miss her much. In fact, he is also plotting her death, having contracted the very expensive services of assassin-for-hire Charlie Wolfe (Pegg). The local bad cop (Bryan Brown) keeps his eye on everyone, poised to intercept money wherever it might change hands.
The oh-what-a-tangled-web thriller has certain charms, as evidenced by the popularity of a television show like Breaking Bad. Stenders bets on those charms to the exclusion of much else, and as a result Kill Me Three Times tumbles out with the same velocity and coherence of a toddler recounting last night’s dream. For some, the film’s energy buzz might be enough: after all, it’s got guns, flaming cars, bags of money, fireball explosions, and splattering shots to the head. There is also the apt and lavish deployment of the beckoning, coastal Australian landscape, with its paradoxical sense of absolute freedom and brutal limitation. One wishes Kill Me Three Times had emerged in some more organic form from its chosen setting. Instead the mysteries of that setting feel overlaid with a scheme of faded, generic, bullet-popping glory.