Review: Simon Pegg has great fun playing slimy in Aussie thriller ‘Kill Me Three Times’

Kriv Stenders is not a filmmaker whose name I knew before this, but “Kill Me Three Times” suggests he has both a slick sense of style and a wicked nasty sense of humor. The film stars Simon Pegg as a slimy hitman named Charlie Wolfe, and it is a sort of sun-drenched round robin of terrible people doing terrible things to one another to largely charming effect.

The script by James McFarland fractures the story into three overlapping chunks of time, doubling back on itself to illuminate why people are behaving certain ways, but it's actually a fairly simple story once it becomes untangled. Someone hires Charlie to kill someone else, and that someone may not be on the level. Charlie may not be on the level, either. Basically, it is a movie of double and triple crosses in which pretty much everyone deserves what they get, all set in the bright and beautiful sunshine of Australia.

On a recent podcast, I heard someone talking about Australia saying they wish they'd been warned that it is likely that the first kangaroo a tourist sees is going to be a dead one, hit by a car, and sure enough, “Kill Me Three Times” uses a roadkill kangaroo as a sort of totem, a visual lynchpin around which the rest of the film's crazy comic mayhem unfolds. Jack (Callan Mulvey) and Alice (Alice Braga) are an unhappily married couple who co-own a bar and hotel, and Jack's sister Lucy (Teresa Palmer) and her husband Nathan (Sullivan Stapleton) live in the same town, where they work together at Nathan's dentistry practice. All four of them have secrets and simmering resentments and things finally boil over when someone summons Charlie to step in and start cleaning up what is definitely a mess.

Having also just seen Pegg in his starring role in “Hector And The Search For Happiness,” I love how gleefully slimy he makes Charlie in the film. I would happily watch a series of movies about Charlie dealing with other awful clients. He's just smart enough to feel like he's a few steps ahead of everyone all the time, but he's just greedy enough to screw his own plans up. Alice Braga plays Charlie's initial target, and her husband Jack is the movie's “villain” initially, but little by little, the film strips away our ideas about who these people are, and they're all revealed to be pretty worthy of whatever might happen. The film plays it all for dark laughs, and Pegg helps set a very particular tone with his work.

“Kill Me Three Times” doesn't ultimately have much to say about people beyond that, and there is something familiar about this sort of game of nastiness, but the film is fun about it. It doesn't play things overly grim or dark or act like this is about something deeper. It's a game, and a well-played one. Bryan Brown shows up in a smaller supporting role, and it's great to see him chew it up for a few scenes. I didn't recognize Sullivan Stapleton at all when he showed up, and even after I learned it was the guy from “300: Rise Of The Empire,” I didn't recognize him. He's good here as a hen-pecked husband who has a nasty gambling problem, and Teresa Palmer does a nice job as the alpha in the relationship. Luke Hemsworth, who appears to be the Billy Baldwin of the Hemsworth clan, plays the boyfriend-on-the-side of one of the characters with all the wet-eyed insistence of a puppy who wants to be scratched. Geoffrey Simpson's photography is both bright and lush, and I like watching a noir-styled story told in a way that visually destroys the cliches. Simpson is one of those guys who may not be wildly well-known yet, but whose work is very, very strong, and I love the way he shoots Australia in the movie.

“Kill Me Three Times” is a confident smaller film, and if you enjoy this sort of chess game with bullets, you'll probably get a kick out of it, and for Pegg fans, it's pretty much continuous pleasure throughout.

“Kill Me Three Times” is currently seeking US distribution.