“I can’t believe I’m going to die in this place,” intones the gruff Danny Wolfe (Simon Pegg) mere moments into “Kill Me Three Times,” clearly unimpressed by the surrounding beach and crystal blue waves he’s surrounded by. And yet as we soon find out, he isn’t the one we should be concerned about.
A candy-coated thriller that resembles those pretzel M & Ms for all the saltiness it hides underneath, “Kill Me Three Times” actually puts a woman named Alice (Alice Braga) in its crosshairs from the start, tracking how a trip to the dentist for a chipped tooth somehow ends up with her drugged in the back of a flaming car as it rolls off a cliff. The how is explained in quick succession as her dentist Nathan (Sullivan Stapleton), an inveterate gambler in need to pay off his debts, is coaxed into putting her under by his wife Lucy (Teresa Palmer). But the why unfolds more slowly, as the film contorts into three chapters told in nonchronological order that show during the middle passage how Alice’s philandering on Lucy’s brother Jack (Callan Mulvey) has led to a revenge plot. At some point, Jack enlists the services of Wolfe, who spends much of the film bemused to see others attempt to do his dirty work for him with varying degrees of success.
Although one wishes there was a bit more zing to the dialogue in James McFarland’s script, something that’s compensated for by Johnny Kllimek’s swinging ’60s score (perhaps a bit too much), the film is cleverly plotted and a refreshing departure from the hardened, shadowy noir that Australia has become renowned for in recent years. Director Kriv Stenders keeps the story on track in spite of all its complications and adds a much needed dash of visual flair. He also does well to cast many of the actors against type, pitting the usually demure Palmer as a devious shrew, the strapping Stapleton as a bumbler, and Pegg as the straight-shooting Wolfe. Even Bryan Brown keeps his shirt buttoned up as a cop with little interest in protecting anyone but himself.
“Kill Me Three Times” probably would’ve benefited from a little more outside the box thinking like that, though it does exhibit some endearingly odd touches – occasionally, the film drops in something shot sideways and Wolfe’s affinity for obscene postcards and flamboyant ringtones is always good for a laugh. But while it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it’s a breezy, crowdpleasing ride that coasts on the charm of its cast and well-honed scheming, something that fortunately for the audience’s sake, the characters aren’t capable of themselves despite their best laid plans.