“Kill Me Three Times” is a grimly amusing Australian thriller in the “Blood Simple” mold, for those who know their early Coen Brothers history.
And if your memories of that film noir classic aren’t the sharpest, “Three Times” is so similar — in structure, situations and characters — that it serves as a refresher course on that film and the genre it revived.
We meet Charlie as he’s putting the finishing touches on a job. He’s killing someone, so if his ostentatious “car with character” (1960s Olds Toronado) black on black wardrobe and Fu Manchu mustache don’t give him away, that act does. He’s a hit man.
He takes a call. It might be his next job.
The story then flips back and forth in time in between three threads of plot. There’s the bartender-wife (Alice Braga) of a bar owner (Callan Mulvey) trying to run away from an abusive marriage. And there’s the dentist (Sullivan Stapleton) being nagged into faking a death by his receptionist-wife (Teresa Palmer) for reasons that will become clear later.
Somebody wants Charlie to rub out somebody else, but since everybody seems intent on knocking somebody else off, sometimes Charlie sits back, watches and takes credit.
“Quality always costs,” he purrs. Which is why the film is titled “Kill Me Three Times.” Chapters break it into “Kill Me Once” and then “Kill Me Twice.” Because sometimes, the “killed” aren’t actually dead. Premium prices would ensure that the job only has to be done once.
Bryan Brown, little seen in the decades since the “FX” movies, shows up as a tough, aged and corrupt cop.
Pegg, the comic star of “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead,” by default makes Charlie a fun and funny figure — not as sharp as he seems to think. He swears a lot, shakes his head at the shenanigans of others and figures he’ll clean up and collect a nice payday for all the work he may not even have to do.
Unless the flashbacks and flashforwards — most of which have “spoiler alert” built into them — stop him. The James McFarland script and Kriv Stenders direction of it give away the big revelations too easily.
Thus, “Kill Me Three Times” is enjoyable mainly for its performances — Pegg’s comic venality, Palmer’s nagging ruthlessness, Brown’s quiet cruelty — and the creative ways it kills its way toward an ending that we’ve seen pretty close to the beginning.
MPAA Rating: R for bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity
Cast: Alice Braga, Luke Hemsworth, Simon Pegg, Teresa Palmer,Callan Mulvey, Bryan Brown
Credits: Directed by Kriv Stenders, written by James McFarland. A Magnolia release.
Running time: 1:30