Friday, May 16, 2008

Review - Three and Out

Messily scripted, indifferently directed and shot with all the grace of an ITV sitcom,
Three and Out is a depressingly lame British picture that completely fails to capitalise on the meagre potential of its premise. Paul Callow (Mackenzie Crook, taking an awkward step into leading man territory) is a tube driver and frustrated novelist who dreams of escaping his dreary London existence and heading for an isolated cabin in the Scottish highlands. Every now and then, Paul will stare longingly at a photo of said cabin and a blast of panpipes will appear on the film's soundtrack. Alas, Paul has even more reasons to miserable when a man falls under his train one morning; and then, just a few days later, a second unfortunate commuter follows suit. These two deaths are a heavy load for Paul to bear, but he spots a silver lining when a colleague mentions the "Three and Out" rule, a little-known London Underground policy in which drivers responsible for three deaths in a single month are offered a severance package worth ten year's salary.

So, Paul starts scouting around for a suicidal character willing to become his third victim, and he happens upon cranky tramp Tommy (Colm Meany) just as the latter is about to throw himself over a bridge. The pair strike a deal, with Paul offering Tommy £1,500 to enjoy his last weekend, as long as he's in the right place on the right time on Monday morning. That last weekend sees Tommy taking Paul on a "heart-warming" jaunt around the country, as he bids to mend his fractured relationships with estranged wife Rosemary (Imelda Staunton) and daughter Frankie (Gemma Arterton); but this drawn-out trip is both emotionally flat and cripplingly unfunny. The decision to move the action to Liverpool and the Lake District takes the film away from the only thing that distinguished it in the first place – the fact that it was centred on the life of a tube driver – and at this point the screenplay, by Steve Lewis and Tony Owen, rapidly runs out of legs. Most of the film's musty humour would shame a 70's
Confessions Of... film (the script has a weird emphasis on homophobic gags); and the crudeness of Jonathan Gershfield's direction can be summed up by the way he handles the first death in the film – cutting straight from the sight of a man falling under Paul's train, to a splat of ketchup on his plate.

Mackenzie Crook cuts a lonely figure at the film's centre. The weight of the central role causes his scrawny shoulders to buckle early on, and his limited range of expression is exhausted within the opening half hour. Most of the other casting choices range from the bizarre (Anthony Sher as a gay French cannibal!) or inexplicable (a nails-down-the-blackboard cameo from the ghastly Kerry Katona), and the only performances worth a damn come from Meany and Staunton. They're both great actors, managing to find a common note of grace and depth in their scenes together, and the fact that their nostalgic conversation is cut between Arterton and Crook's budding relationship only highlights what an anaemic pair the latter are. At this point the film – never a fleet-footed beast – stalls completely, and a chase sequence that sees Crook jumping naked out of a window before falling into a cowpat neatly encapsulates the sense of desperation that surrounds it.

So what's new? Plenty of rubbish comedies get made every year in this country, and usually such a lazy, ugly effort would be quickly consigned to obscurity;
Three and Out, however, has inexplicably become one of the most over-exposed pictures of recent weeks. An absurdly widespread advertising campaign has seen Mackenzie Crook's face staring at us from almost every bus, billboard and TV screen in London, and the film's central subject has drawn fire from train drivers, with a protest being staged at its Leicester Square premiere. Frankly, the whole business beggars belief. Three and Out is nothing more than another useless British movie, and it has already received much more attention than it deserves.