By Vesper Arnett
There’s something slightly off about Kill Me Three Times. Maybe the presence of Simon Pegg (Star Trek, Hot Fuss) alone throws off expectations, setting the bar a bit too high for everything else around him. Worse, the story is a bit messy in its construction in the initial stages, giving the viewer very little to really hang on to other than the fantastic natural landscape of the Australian coastline that the film is set against. Director Kriv Stenders and writer James McFarland might have grand ideas, but the execution is uneven at best. Perhaps there’s some element that is lost in translation between Australian filmmakers and American audiences.
First of all, the story is divided into thirds—we learn new parts to the story in each section, with everything kind-of tying together by the end. The end is far and away the best part, and the rest feels more like episodic television than a 90-minute film, and not even in a good way. If you’ve ever seen those cheesy 60s spy shows or Adam West’s Batman, you get a good idea of what the film was aiming for, with a bumbling, funny villain who actually turns out to be rather dangerous. At other times, it felt like a borderline neo-noir style crime drama. Think about the episodes of Veronica Mars that weren’t main storyline, and weren’t about characters you liked. It’s like Season 3 of that show, and it’s a mess.
The first third doesn’t make a ton of sense. Characters enter, some people die, there are some weird phone calls. We don’t know who anyone is, and when they die, it doesn’t matter. Except it does, because the next part is a different perspective from that same day, so characters we only met off screen suddenly are important on screen and it gets confusing.
Simon Pegg has done the dark character in The World’s End, and it seems that he works best as an actor who can clearly see his character’s motivation and goals. Without that, the audience also can’t get a clear sense of the character he’s playing, and since he is the biggest name on the billing, it’s not a good sign. Sure it’s a mystery, but when the actor seems just as lost as the audience, it’s hard to immerse and invest in the character. It’s a shame, because when he finally does begin to light up the screen, it’s the final third of the film. He’s the gleeful villain when given the chance to do something besides be shady, and honestly, the role could’ve been a fun role for a newcomer.
The rest of the characters are what you’d expect from the special holiday action episode of a soap opera or Game of Thrones without context. Don’t pretend like you don’t know what I mean—we find out a surprise about one person, and all of the tension between the warring factions explodes and someone dies on the toilet, or something similar. It gets wild: the last third is full of that kind of drama, but I’m not sure that the rest of the film really makes the wait for the end worth it.
The film is trying to be a lot of things at once, and while it’s a valiant effort, feels rough. The cinematography makes it watchable, showcasing the gorgeous coastline of Australia as a colorful, not overly developed, and significantly larger alternative to Hawaii. It is deceptive in that it looks like paradise on the surface, but the film expresses a darkness that could be refined into something great. Unfortunately, this is not something great.