‘Three and Out’: Is This Really Supposed to Be a Comedy?

The biggest mistake I made upon my first viewing of Three and Out was expecting it to be a comedy. I think I could be forgiven for making this mistake; in fact I believe the filmmakers and their publicists made it, too. I mean, look at that cover! Mackenzie Crook staring straight into the camera! A dog that only appears in about 30 seconds of the movie’s first scene! That goofy, crooked font!

When things get started this misconception isn’t exactly cleared up. The speed with which the premise setup is dispatched (London Tube driver unintentionally kills two people on his route; his coworkers tell him if he strikes a third within a month then a secret policy will allow him to retire with ten years’ wages) leads one to believe the filmmakers are cutting character development to get straight to the jokes. There’s a montage to Blondie’s “One Way Or Another” (as our hero searches for suicidal prospects) that culminates in a “hilarious” Frenchman asking to be eaten, and later we’re treated to a chase scene through a cow pasture involving a dad in his skivvies and a lover jumping out the offending daughter’s window.

Despite all these attempts at “comic relief”, it would be generous to classify this movie as a comedy, even a “dark” one. The problem with Three and Out is that it never quite finds its tone. There’s the buddy-comedy between our hero Paul (Mackenzie Crook) and his suicidal prospect Tommy (Colm Meaney), the familial reconciliation/black-sheep-makes-good tale between Tommy and his estranged family, and then there’s the tacked-on love story between Paul and Tommy’s foul-mouthed daughter “Frankie” with the Le Loup posters on her wall (Bond girl and Prince of Persia siren-to-come Gemma Arterton). It’s not easy to blend such disparate tones together into a coherent whole, and with his first feature after a career of TV shows and music videos, perhaps director Jonathan Gershfield hasn’t quite yet honed the necessary skills.

There’s also some confusion over whose story this is; the apparent answer is Paul (Crook) – the top-billed star with the biggest-sized face on the cover, and the character to whom we’re first introduced – but it seems like much more effort has been put into developing the character of Tommy (Meaney). Really though, there’s not much about either of these characters that’s worth investing in. Paul’s supposed to be a deep thinker because he reads Burroughs and Dostoyevsky, although we never see anything else to support this. Everybody keeps looking at photos to amp up their emotions (and to signal to the audience that emotions are at play, somehow). It doesn’t really become clear how a man who is shut-down enough to regularly stand on a bridge contemplating suicide comes to a point where he can write a letter eloquent enough to make his daughter cry, but that he does.

The bravest thing about this movie is its ending; I wouldn’t want to spoil anything if you’re still inspired to pop in this disc (which you’ll likely have to actually buy if you’re in the US: its Netflix page says “DVD availability date unknown”) after all this, but suffice it to say it actually does not take the cop-out route I was expecting to follow the palatable mush of the first hour and 30-minutes.

It seems this film was alternatively titled A Deal’s A Deal, which is a phrase the two leading men can’t stop repeating back to one another. Nothing about this movie, of course, is subtle. Even the music is way too on-the-nose. Lee Mead (doing his best Del Amitri impression) sings “somebody help me, yeah / somebody tell me what I’ve done wrong” as Paul sweats his mistakes. Mead also covers Carole King’s (or James Taylor’s, if you prefer) “You’ve Got a Friend” over a romantic montage at the end. And guess when Elvis Costello’s “Accidents Will Happen” plays?

I’ve been vaguely following Mackenzie Crook’s career ever since he played the “right wally” (Crook’s words) Gareth Keenan in the seminal UK incarnation of “The Office”: a career which had thus far amounted to a string of tiny bit parts and a supporting Pirates of the Caribbean role, and so I had been looking forward to seeing him here as a leading man for some time. This film seems to have won some awards (according to IMDB) at a few minor film festivals in 2008-9 (Durango, Garden State, Honolulu) but never caught a US theatrical release at all.

Crook’s got a pretty unfortunate combination of bad haircut/nasty facial hair in this film, which are about as flattering as Gareth Keenan’s oversized suit shoulders. He’s a skeletal guy, sure, but Crook doesn’t have to be bad-looking; it’s too bad he’s got to play such busted-looking scraggly dudes all the time, although good for him for suffering for his art. I guess. Speaking of suffering for art, incidentally, in one scene in this film he gets dangled over a bridge and apparently actually broke a rib doing it (Damon Syson, Daily Mail, 12 April 2008).

As a DVD release, this package isn’t much to be proud of. There’s the aforementioned misleading broad-comedy artwork splashed across both the front cover and the menu screen (which also features that aggressively-mediocre “Somebody Help Me” song), with just one press quote highlighted: Fox News has apparently called it “laugh-out-loud, fun”. Oh boy.

There’s no commentary track: generally a sign that at least the DVD distributor and possibly the filmmakers themselves didn’t care enough about the film to think about it after making it. There is a 25-minute making-of doc which basically amounts to the actors summarizing their parts, as well as ten deleted scenes (which are mostly really extended or alternate takes on existing scenes), and a bunch of trailers. That’s the full extent of the special features. These extras are very much in line with the general quality of the film as the whole: not the worst thing ever, but rather cobbled-together, poorly thought-out, and forgettable, and honestly probably not worth sitting through. Unless, like me, you’re a completist regarding one of these actors, and you don’t mind a disappointment every once in a while.

RATING 3 / 10