Here’s a suggestion for Kriv Stenders, director of the flagrantly messy “Kill Me Three Times”: don’t be so kind to first-time screenwriters. As our thoughts wrestle over who to chastise for this incomprehensibly cluttered picture, it can either be James MacFarland for his first screenplay or Stenders for not using the experience he has from his more compelling movies (“Red Dog,” “Boxing Day”) to take control of the situation. As it stands, they are both culprits for making “Kill Me Three Times” feel artificial in every possible way, despite having Simon Pegg along for the ride. If it were funnier, perhaps the trite action and insipid characters could be excused, but it isn’t nearly funny enough for that.
“Fuck me,” says Pegg’s Charlie Wolfe in the opening voice-over, as an aerial shot of a gorgeous Australian beach comes into view. It’s the very first dialogue spoken in the film, and proves to be one of few laughs we have. Wolfe is complaining because he’s apparently about to die, and “Kill Me Three Times” — divided into three chapters, called “Kill Me Once,” “Kill Me Twice,” etc. — takes a non-linear storytelling structure to tell the tale of how Wolfe found himself nearing his maker. Wolfe is an assassin-for-hire, and we first lay eyes on him as he hunts a man in the Australian outback. The phone call he gets, in the middle of firing rounds, is from bar-tending criminal Jack (Callan Mulvey) who wants Wolfe to start keeping tabs on his wife Alice (Alice Braga).
Alice is the one who connects all the various characters in ‘Kill Me.’ Among them are: Jack’s sister Lucy (Teresa Palmer), Lucy’s dentist husband Nathan (Sullivan Stapleton), and mechanic Dylan (Luke Hemsworth). Lucy and Nathan need to find a way to take care of Nathan’s gambling debts, and Dylan is waiting for Alice to finally leave her badly tempered husband and run away with him. Not much time is wasted until the back-stabbing begins, the body count starts to rise, and most everyone’s motivation is revealed to be stacks of colorful Australian dollars.
With its wonky structure and lighthearted attitude from the entire cast (whether it’s Pegg’s insistent chuckling or Palmer’s frustrated huffs and puffs), this is one of those breezy movies fit for the background while you do your daily chores. And a good motivation to actually do some housework, because paying too much attention to the characters or trying to keep up with all the wheelings and dealings in “Kill Me Three Times” proves more laborious than any amount of dirty dishes. MacFarland’s screenplay relies on comedy to sustain its clichéd action and stereotypical characters, but apart from a couple of Pegg moments (one cigarette lighting gag turns into the only comedic highlight) we hardly let out a giggle.
The filming must have been a delight to shoot, and a great opportunity for the cast and crew to bask in the sun and enjoy the magnificent Australian beaches behind the scenes. In front of the cameras, however, the result is a lame attempt at channeling the energy of a Quentin Tarantino or Doug Liman film. From the electric guitar on the soundtrack to the predictable duplicitous nature of practically every single character, “Kill Me Three Times” kills all the fun by the time you reach the halfway point. By then, you just feel like hitting the mute button and enjoying the stunning Australian locale. [D-]