Kill Me Three Times’
Kriv Stenders
Stars: Simon Pegg, Alice Braga
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

There’s comically misanthropic and then there’s just cynical, and the Australian import “Kill Me Three Times” — in which, spoiler, no single character dies three times — is very much the latter. It’s a parade of nastiness where each character is unpleasant in unengaging, unentertaining ways, and in which each invariably meets a gruesome but not particularly inventive end. It begins with a character trying to make a dull line funny by simply inserting an f-bomb, and it carries on in that fashion. That character, a cheerfully amoral hitman named Charlie Wolfe, is played by Simon Pegg, who himself is called upon to act goofy and make funny faces — to do anything to provide life where the script has supplied none. If anything this is a sad drama about an actor struggling to fun up a Tarantino knockoff that’s arrived 20 years too late.

In fact, “Kill Me Three Times”’s debt to “Pulp Fiction” isn’t small. It also steals its three-part, interconnected structure. Its byzantine tale of murder, revenge and long cons is told three times from three different perspectives. Why? Mostly because it wouldn’t have any other reason to exist. “Times” tells of a dentist (Sullivan Stapleton, from “300 2”) and his wife (Teresa Palmer) trying to murder one of his patients (Alice Braga). It at least appears they succeed, at which point the film jumps back and starts again, this time from Braga’s perspective, revealing more sides to the story. Then it jumps back one more time to wrap things up. All the while Pegg’s Wolfe skulks about the sidelines; before he finally enters the narrative proper, one could assume he was added in post, in a desperate attempt to give it some pep.

Director Kriv Stenders decks this out in bright colors — it’s a sunshine noir, albeit one in Oz, not L.A. — and a guitar-and-organ score that’s meant to signal to the audience that they’re having a rollicking good time. But for starters, everyone’s acting in different registers. Braga, a talented but fairly humorless actress, can’t get into the comic vein, and the combination of her and Pegg in the same movie is like a comic thriller that happens to star Greta Garbo and Jerry Lewis. The procession of deaths is likewise meant to amuse, but there’s so little invested in the many characters — which also include Bryan Brown and Chris and Liam Hemsworth’s somehow even more boring brother Luke — that what should be comically heartless is just a downer. Three times is two too many.

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