Essentially an odd couple comedy Three And Out is based around the idea that if a tube train driver runs over and kills three people within the space of a month they’re pensioned off and given ten years pay. There’s a long tradition of British black comedy but this isn’t actually one of them, it starts off that way but about twenty minutes in becomes something more unusual, a mix of daft antics, slapstick and a maudlin reflection on love lost and opportunities not taken.
Mackenzie Crook plays Paul, a hapless tube driver who hates his job and after two people die by falling in front of his train he learns that if a third were to perish he’d receive a lump sum that would let him buy his dream cottage in the Scottish highlands, where he could escape from society and become the writer that he dreams of being. Driven to distraction by the loudness of the city he starts looking for suicidal people, and encounters Colm Meany’s grumpy Tommy Cassidy, who agrees to go along with his plan when it’s sweetened with a £1,500 pay off which he intends on giving to his estranged wife and child. So off the duo go to Liverpool to find them, where they encounter Tommy’s old nemesis and get in to all manner of hijinks before finally tracking down his family.
This came in for something of a critical mauling upon it’s release which it didn’t really deserve, but it’s definitely a flawed creation. The biggest problem is that it leaps in to events too quickly, we’re supposed to like and empathise with Mackenzie Crook’s character but within seven minutes of the film’s opening he’s off looking for a third victim. I’m fond of films which don’t faff about but it needed to establish his character a little more so that when he’s trying to persuade people to jump in front of his train it doesn’t seem callous and cruel. But before we know it he’s driving around popular suicide spots, lurking around the self help section of a bookstore and meeting people from an online suicide chat room, the latter going horribly wrong when it turns out the guy wants him to cook and eat him first.
The tone of the film lurches all over the place too, the mid-section is a rather depressing autopsy of a dead marriage where Tommy tries to win back the affections of his wife (Imelda Staunton, who turns in the best performance of the film) and Paul accidentally seduces Tommy’s daughter Frankie (Gemma Arterton). There’s an unneeded sex scene where we get to see Arterton naked and Mackenzie Crook all but orgasming which is an image I fear will haunt my nightmares for decades to come. Straight after this there’s a ridiculous (if fun) chase scene across the country as Tommy discovers Paul in bed with his daughter and is predictably enraged, before events once again take a darker turn as Tommy collapses with a suspected heart attack and ends up in hospital.
The film does have some charm, Colm Meany makes for an appealing lovable rogue sort and Crook is a pleasant enough lead, his performance strongly resembling that of his role in the astonishingly wonderful Detectorists, with that being the reason I watched the film in the first place. There’s some funny moments when the duo are involved in a bit of breaking and entering and some decent lines throughout the piece, but it’s such a mishmash of ideas and themes that it doesn’t really work as a cohesive whole. And that’s not even mentioning the ending (and I’d suggest stopping reading here if you don’t want it spoiled) which I have a great deal of issues with, it makes some sort of sense but at the same time why Paul doesn’t end up being arrested is something I’ll never understand, or why he ends up with Frankie despite killing her father.
Despite some occasionally choppy editing it’s an interesting film, even with it’s outlandish concept the character’s feel real and you will find yourself caring for them, which makes the traumatic denouement quite touching material. Yet the bolted on happy ending and the mid section which is all rather melancholic doesn’t sit well with the rest of the film, and nor does the bizarre running gag about the man who wants to be eaten. With a little more care it could have been a much better, more consistent movie, but the styles conflict with each other leaving us with a film which is worth watching, but not something that you’ll ever return to a second time.