PAY-TO-SLAY

Looking forward to Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight over the holidays, I was forcefully reminded of his influence on contemporary film by a terrific new Australian movie which just had a DVD release after its a negligible impact at the box-office. It’s hard to understand why it did so poorly since Kill Me Three Times has so much in common with Pulp Fiction, especially the structure, style, violence, and humor.

I suspect the major reason for its quick demise at the theater, other than marketing failure (a factor which should never be overlooked in terms of a film’s success or otherwise), is the movie’s lack of familiar star-power — most cast members were relative unknowns. The big exception is British funnyman Simon Pegg, who rarely misses in whatever role he plays — from Mission: Impossible and Star Trek to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. He’s definitely on target again in Kill Me Three Times.

Sporting a nifty variation of a Fu Manchu mustache, Pegg plays absolutely ruthless hitman Charlie Wolfe, who’s involved in three separate but linked murders-for-hire. Charlie is also the film’s narrator who, in the opening sequence, is in the process of dying. Never without a wry comment when he kills someone else, about his own demise Charlie observes that this isn’t the way it was supposed to happen.

The rest of Kill Me Three Times reveals how Charlie has gotten himself in his
unenviable position.

What attention the film managed to attract from reviewers in its limited appearance on U.S. screens was often dismissive in terms of the obvious parallels to other Pulp-inspired ’90s movies. Kill Me Three Times, though, is more than just a retro-trip to the Land of Pulp. Like Tarantino and his co-writer Roger Avary, director Kriv Stenders and scripter James McFarland are also riffing on similarly familiar but still classic elements of film noir in general, just like the Coen Brothers in Blood Simple a full decade before Pulp Fiction.

Like the Coens and Tarantino, all of whom consciously draw from prior film models in many of their movies, Stenders and McFarland are imitative, too, but without sacrificing quality.

Since so much of the film’s pleasure derives from its plot, I’ll be scanty on the details. Into the complicated brew are mixed an unfaithful wife (x2), a jealous husband, a vengeful lover, a crooked cop, and a luckless dentist. And, of course, the hitman who is trying to make heads and tails of everyone and everything else involved.

Apart from the unconventional chronology of events, some of which are revisited from more than one viewpoint, Kill Me Three Times also profits from the Australian scenery and good performances from its eclectic cast. The two female leads are played by blonde Australian Teresa Palmer (I Am Number Four,Bedtime Stories) and brunette Brazilian Alice Braga (Elysium,I Am Legend). Palmer plays the bitch, Braga the harried heroine — both convincingly.

Luke Hemsworth, older brother of Chris and Liam, is a chunkier and shorter hunk than his younger siblings, but his acting skills are equal to the family genes. It’s no surprise he plays a tough romantic.

Another face of particular interest in the film is Bryan Brown, former leading man and star of movies as diverse as Breaker Morant,Cocktail,F/X, and Gorillas in the Mist, all of them major hits in the ’80s, as well as the ’83 TV miniseries The Thorn Birds. For the last few decades, however, Brown has restricted himself to extensive work both in television and film in his native Australia. In Kill Me Three Times, he’s appropriately menacing and still plenty physical as the dirty cop.

Character, however, is secondary to plot this time, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as no less a critic than Aristotle would agree. For now, however, put aside the Poetics and grab the popcorn. Kill Me Three Times is that kind of movie.

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