In the 1990s there was a overstock of Quentin Tarantino-knockoffs trying to cash in on the success of Pulp Fiction. These movies were wordy, featured well-dressed men with large guns, and nihilistic viewpoints that often excessively violent deaths. Other writers would ape Pulp Fiction‘s eschewing of a traditional narrative, starting the action at the end of the movie. All of these qualities were imitated without taking into consideration exactly why and how they worked. More than two decades later, Kill Me Three Times tries again to piece together the Tarantino building blocks into something resembling a working movie.
The film opens with Simon Pegg’s expert assassin, Charlie Wolfe, questioning exactly how he came to find himself awaiting death in the Outback and why any of it matters. Simon Pegg was marketed as the star of Kill Me Three Times, but quickly it becomes apparent that Mr. Pegg doesn’t have much to do in the story. Director Kriv Stenders and first-time screenwriter James McFarland frame the film into three sections all shared from separate p.o.v.s, and at the center of all this hijinks is Alice (Alice Braga) and the many people who want her dead. Alice’s husband, Jack (Callan Mulvey), is abusive and obviously wouldn’t mind if she were in the ground. Her sister, Lucy, and brother-in-law, Nathan (Teresa Palmer and Sullivan Stapleton) owe money to a dirty cop, so they concoct their own scheme to knock Alice off and use her dental records to claim the insurance policy on Lucy.
Exactly why all of these people want Alice dead is a mystery to Charlie, and when the audience is finally treated to some answers, they are grossly underwhelming. Coincidence and mistaken identity are staples of film noir, but Kill Me Three Times made the mistake of confusing itself for being in that class of cinema. The film wants to pay homage to the genre, yet it possesses no characteristics that would lend themselves to noir. There are no characters that viewers can invest themselves in. There’s no suspense or gravity in any of the stakes portrayed. And most offensive of all is the lack of memorable dialogue; an unforgivable act given how many endlessly quotable film noirs there are.
What the film doesn’t skimp on, however, is excessive violence. Every character in Kill Me Three Times is a terrible person and, theoretically, watching the entire cast murder each other one by one should provide some weird, nihilistic laughs, but even that fails to do the trick. Gunshot wounds spray blood left and right, ensuring the ugly deaths onscreen only cheapen life. Violence works as a cinematic tool, but not here, not when it’s purely for shock value. At least Geoffrey Simpson’s stunning aerial shots and views of Western Australia provides a welcome distraction while carotid arteries are exploding.
As the credits roll, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that Simon Pegg could have been used his time making Kill Me Three Times to create something much better. Simon Pegg’s collaborations with Edgar Wright and Nick Frost have provided some of the most energetic, smart and creative films of the last decade. Unfortunately, his work without those two (outside of Star Trek and the Mission: Impossible series) is diminishing his appeal as a lead actor. Pegg is woefully miscast as an assassin, though he was made for the mugging that takes place as Alice’s would-be-killers fail at every turn. No one wants to be a one-trick-pony, but in the future he should make sure that the quality of the script he’s reading matches one he could write before signing on to his next feature.
One thing must be said to the credit of Kill Me Three Times. Props are due to Mr. Pegg for rocking a mustache that could have come right out of Zardoz. It’s too bad everything else in the film couldn’t have been as fun as his facial hair choices.