Given the premise—Charlie Wolfe (Simon Pegg), a hitman, gets more than he bargained for when he takes a job—Kill Me Three Times should be a nifty thriller. And the opening sequence of Charlie taking out a target shows promise, with blood spewing in slow-motion as he shoots, once, twice, and then three more times to make sure the man he was paid to kill is dead.
However, once director Kriv Stenders’ film unfolds its twisty plot, Kill Me Three Times sputters and slackens, like the man in the opening sequence being shot full of bullets.
The story is comprised of three interlocking tales. The first has Alice (Alice Braga) making an appointment with a dentist, Nathan Webb (Sullivan Stapleton). Once in the chair, Nathan sedates Alice with an injection, puts her in the trunk of his car, and tries to kill her. The second story explains Alice’s backstory—the reason she needed to see Nathan the dentist; the contents of the bag she was carrying that surprised Nathan and his coconspirator, Lucy (Teresa Palmer); and other players in Alice’s life, such as her lover, Dylan (Luke Hemsworth). The final act reveals all the double-crosses as characters pretty much get what they deserve.
The main trouble with Kill Me Three Times is that the audiences always knows more than the characters, which dilutes the film’s tension. Knowing that Alice survives an attempt on her life means that chunks of the film must play out how that happened so the characters can catch up and respond accordingly. This means there are many repetitions of events, and sequences that draw out the plot, rather than build up the tension. Moreover, one of the film’s “big twists” is pretty obvious, which also eliminates any of the story’s much needed surprise.
Kill Me Three Times is never as clever as it thinks it is. The characters are mostly superficial types, seeking revenge for the traditional reasons of love and/or money. A subplot involving Nathan’s gambling habit is supposed to create a reason for him to execute his plan. The local cop, Bruce Jones (Bryan Brown), is also pressuring Nathan for money. But the tension of his situation feels more contrived than overbearing. That Nathan is not-too-bright also makes him someone audiences will root for to succeed. But viewers’ sympathies lie squarely with Alice. A little ambiguity for the characters would have helped the film immensely.
Kill Me Three Times does have some stylish moments, and the Western Australia setting provides some beautiful scenery for the action. The cast members all perform ably despite the lousy material. Pegg seems to be having fun in his hitman role, and Alice Braga suffers her characters’ indignities well. Teresa Palmer shows some verve as the villainous Lucy and Sullivan Stapleton is amusing as the bumbling Nathan. And Luke Hemsworth is especially appealing as Alice’s lover. Alas, Kill Me Three Times is mostly dead on arrival.
Kill Me Three Times opens in Philadelphia area theaters today.
Author: Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer. He is the co-editor of Directory of World Cinema: Argentina. Volumes 1 and 2, and teaches seminars at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer.