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Kill Me Three Times
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by Jay Seaver

"Once would not just have been enough, but pretty good."
3 stars

True to its title, "Kill Me Three Times" makes multiple passes through the story - once with a flash-forward to the end, once in basic fashion, and once in more detail - but this jumping back and forth does very little to disguise how hollow it is. It's got style and is certainly never boring, but often seems so concerned with presenting its crime story in a clever way that the stuff that would make it actually interesting are left out.

After the flash-forward, it seems kind of interesting, with hitman Charlie Wolfe (Simon Pegg) finishing up one job and being sent on another, but when he follows Alice Taylor (Alice Braga) to an appointment with her dentist brother-in-law Nathan Webb (Sullivan Stapleton), he stumbles upon someone else's plan, as Nathan and his wife Lucy (Teresa Palmer) have a bit more than reconstructive dentistry planned for her. Also involved: Alice's bar-owner husband Jack (Callan Mulvey), local garage operator Dylan Smith (Luke Hemsworth), and corrupt cop Bruce Jones (Bryan Brown).

The plan hatched by Nathan and Lucy isn't necessarily the most clever to ever pop up in a crime story, but it's something that would certainly be fun as the solution to a mystery story told from the other side of the crime. The trouble is, writer James McFarland and director Kriv Stenders are so anxious to dive in just as the action starts that the characters are sketched out in just the vaguest sense - Nathan has a gambling problem and Lucy is (perhaps justifiably) bitchy. There's no time to build up the walls closing in or whether it's desperation that leads them to turn on Alice like this or whether Lucy feels in some twisted way like she's doing her brother a favor. They're all just parts in a Rube Goldberg machine where murder is a viable next step.

That's not inherently bad - not every crime movie needs to be a moody noir where the audience feels every bit that a femme fatale pulls good people into the gutter like a weight - but building the film this way sometimes makes it feel like even the mechanical parts of the story have been left out. The emphasis on speed isn't quite strong enough to keep the audience from wondering just what the connection between a couple of characters is, where the conveniently empty house fits in, or just how short-lived any survivors' victory may be with the bodies piling up and "no, really, they all killed each other" being kind of difficult for the clean members of the police force to swallow.

Another fault of the emphasis on structure and momentum is that Kriv Stenders never really manages to create a sense of place, either. There are shots that seem meant to emphasize just how beautiful and tony the coast of Western Australia is compared to some of the folks there struggling to get by, but it doesn't quite add up to the film blanc that he seems to be going for. At least, not on this side of the pacific; it's quite possible that jokes about how Wolfe's Oldsmobile Toranado marks him as a tourist hit an Australian's funny bone much cleaner than an American's. It's a shame, because Stenders's eye is pretty keen - he uses his landscapes very well and has costumer Terri Lamera dress the characters smartly - and he seems to know how to have fun with the characters. There are a couple of times when he'll stop a scene with potential weapons in the foreground that hit the border of making sure the audience remembers them later and making it obvious that this is what he's doing just right.

Though much of the cast doesn't get much of a chance to stand out with all this jumping around - Alice Braga and Luke Hemsworth especially seem like they deserve more - there are a few very entertaining performances. Sullivan Stapleton makes a pretty good weak man still capable of doing horrible things, for example. Teresa Palmer dives into her part as a Lady Macbeth incapable of feeling guilt that one doesn't really want to see her playing anything else, especially since her Australian accent is much more delightfully disdainful than the one she uses when cast in North American productions. And while Simon Pegg has, apparently, become a big enough star that seeing him cast outside his generally-amiable nerd comfort zone is odd, his performance as Wolfe seems to fit better as the story gets more outlandish, eventually matching his amorality and eccentric taste in clothes and facial hair, making him a fine part of the ensemble by the time all is said and done.

There are much worse crime movies than "Kill Me Three Times" out there, and not just because it being slick from opening credits to close counts for something. As much as it helps the movie shine, though, that polish just as often hints at stretching an hour's worth of story to ninety minutes, even though there wouldn't be much need for that if the filmmakers used that time to make the characters more individual than parts in the plot machine.

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originally posted: 04/15/15 06:28:28
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 London Film Festival For more in the 2014 London Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 07-Jul-2015



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