Simon Pegg has cornered the market on playing surprising heroes and/or anti-heroes in genre-blending films, most notably in Edgar Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End). Pegg astonishingly turned the latter film’s immature man child, Gary King, into a likable character. Likewise, in supporting roles in blockbuster reboots, from the Mission Impossible to Star Trek franchises, his wise-cracking characters add memorable moments of levity to the straight-up action. In his latest film, Kill Me Three Times, Pegg plays hitman Charlie Wolfe, a character who’s neither menacing nor mercurial; he’s just boring—and that’s a crime.
The “dark comedic thriller” description is attached much too liberally—and incorrectly—to films, and Kill Me Three Times is a prime example. Directed by Kriv Stenders (Red Dog, 2011), the film borrows inspiration from Pulp Fiction and No Country for Old Men. To an extent, Pegg’s murderous character mimics Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) in the Coen Brothers’ film, as Charlie barely has any lines during the first part of the film. Unfortunately, the character’s no Anton, and even a weird bowl cut on Pegg wouldn’t help make the character more interesting (though he does sport a keen handlebar-meets-Fu Manchu mustache).
James McFarland’s script, which languished for several years in development, lacks a playfulness in its dialogue and doesn’t venture much into comedic territory. When Kill Me Three Times does attempt humor, the jokes and gags land with a thud: In an early sequence, Charlie takes a cell phone call—just before shooting his wounded victim at close range—in order to book his next gig.
The film comprises puzzle pieces that are assembled through flashbacks and shuffled sequences. Charlie’s primary assignment is to kill Alice (Alice Braga), the estranged wife of beach motel/club owner, Jack (Callan Mulvey). Although he’s a control freak who smacks Alice around, it’s Jack who feels wronged when she falls in love with local mechanic (Luke Hemsworth). Though it seems like a simple enough assignment, Charlie soon finds himself entangled in a separate, but related murder scheme involving a dentist drowning in gambling debts and a murderous insurance scam.
At first, Charlie watches all the drama unfold from afar, through long-range cameras and various other spy gadgets. The observant nature of the job doesn’t allow Pegg much interaction with other characters, nor does it allow his character to develop fully. Charlie’s not a bungling executioner or an expert marksman—as far as psychopaths go, he’s rather bland.
The rest of the cast also make do with the material they’re given, but there are a couple of notably cheesy scenes. Hemsworth’s Dylan wants to go after Jack after he sees Alice’s bruised face, but as he’s about to leave, there’s a dramatic pause before she begs him to stay and make love to her instead. In another instance, Jack’s anger over his straying wife boils over with a theatrical smashing of drinking glasses. Both Hemsworth and Mulvey deserve more than a chance to brood.
Kill Me Three Times also features a number of perplexing filmmaking choices from Stenders and his team, from gimmicky, sideways shots that are employed too often, to terrible CGI. (A car fire usually doesn’t spread evenly around a car’s body.) Composer Johnny Klimek guitar-led score with surf overtones serves as more of a distraction than sets the mood.
The film isn’t a complete loss, as the manipulation of the timeline and the shuffling of plot points keep the 90-minute potboiler moving steadily toward its resolution. The filmmakers add twists to twists and one last double-cross to keep the audience on its toes, but if you pull back the overly complicated layers and disregard the chicanery, you’ll find a derivative film that largely squanders the talent of its leading man and supporting actors.
Directors: Kriv Stenders
Writer: James McFarland
Starring: Simon Pegg, Teresa Palmer, Alice Braga, Sullivan Stapleton, Callan Mulvey, Luke Hemsworth, Bryan Brown
Release Date: April 10, 2015, in limited release; available on iTunes/On Demand now.
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter.