On the back of the DVD cover for Three And Out (2008) there’s a press quote from a reviewer named Simon Rose (BBC Radio), which describes the movie as “a deliciously twisted, hilarious British comedy with heart”… but the only word in that description I’d actually agree with is “British”. To be fair, if someone told me they’d been moved by the more dramatic elements of this movie, I’d probably say fair enough, and think no less of them for it… but if they told me they’d laughed heartily at all the “jokes”, then I’d assume they were a time-traveller from the 1980s, when this style of broad, stereotypical humour would have been a little easier to swallow. For the first half hour or so, it almost felt like I was watching an old rerun of Bread! Shudder.
For those who don’t know, this controversial, critically derided flop stars Mackenzie Crook as ‘Paul Callow’, an aspiring writer who pays the bills by driving a tube train, in that there London. He looks miserable enough to begin with, but when he has the misfortune to witness two separate accidents involving random civilians getting smushed beneath the wheels of his train, he seems to be on the brink of a total breakdown. The only ray of hope in his life is the revelation that there’s a special, super-secret compensation package set aside for any driver unfortunate enough to hit three people in the space of a month… a “golden handshake” of ten years’ pay, awarded in a lump sum. Jackpot, right? But Paul only has a week to find a suicidal sad sack desperate enough to voluntarily fall under his train, in return for a cut of the money (up front, obviously). After a deeply unfunny and offensive montage sequence, he finally finds a likely candidate in ‘Tommy Cassidy’ (Colm Meaney), a gruff, grizzled, terminally ill Irishman he “saves” from jumping off a bridge. Tommy agrees to the macabre deal, on the condition that he can spend his last weekend alive tying up some loose ends, before he meets his maker… loose ends which lead the odd couple on a wacky series of adventures, as they bicker, bond, and blah, blah, blah.
If you’re interested in watching a bittersweet drama about an estranged, middle-aged couple (played by Meaney and Imelda Staunton) coming to terms with how far they’ve grown apart, then this movie may be for you, because that’s pretty much the only part that really works. Their scenes together are a great showcase for the two actors… but they are not, by any stretch of the imagination, “hilarious”. I wasn’t particularly surprised to learn from the “making of” that Staunton insisted on several rewrites to make her character more three-dimensional, and less of an “adjunct” to her husband. Sadly Tommy’s daughter, ‘Frankie’ (played by Gemma Arterton), just comes off as an indulgent wank fantasy: a smart, gorgeous, quirky young woman who’s instantly attracted to a gawky, miserable writer fifteen years her senior, simply because he’s so “different” from the local lads. She seems to flip from angrily raging at Paul’s presence to passionately shagging him in the shake of a lamb’s tail! Arterton is an incredibly funny and charming actress (even with a wonky Liverpudlian accent), so her scenes are still very watchable… but the role is totally beneath her. And when she showed up at Paul’s door at the end of the movie, I actually swore at my TV screen. What the hell was she thinking? “Ohmygod, that book you wrote about running my Dad over with a train was such a turn on! Please have more sex with me, you gorgeous hunk of tortured genius, you!” Yeah, right.
The funniest part of the whole DVD for me was actually the inside of the case… because that’s where they placed their advert for the official Three And Out e-shop, where you can buy a copy of the soundtrack album, the novelisation (!), and even a replica of “Frankie’s Bunny”! This stuffed toy animal is used to cover Paul’s penis when Tommy catches him in bed with his daughter… and now fans of the movie can recreate that farcical scene in their very own home, for the bargain price of just £22.99!!! Yes, I typed that correctly… twenty-two pounds and ninety-nine pence. Yowsa! Considering how few people actually turned out to buy tickets for the movie itself, the notion that they’d dig deep into their pockets for some tenuous merchandise seems hopelessly optimistic at this point.