The title of “Three and Out” could just as easily denote the number of weeks this unfunny and underwhelming Britcom will probably last in most British theaters before shuttering. Handle actually refers to a rumor the pic’s subway-driver protagonist hears, which states that if a driver accidentally runs over three people he will get laid off with a hefty golden handshake, a controversial premise that’s reaped negative publicity prior to the pic’s wide domestic release. Considerable thesping talents of Colm Meaney, Imelda Staunton, and Antony Sher are wasted in this inauspicious helming debut for Jonathan Gershfield.
It will be interesting to see whether the cast, coupled with a lavish marketing spend by new distrib outfit Worldwide Bonus Entertainment, can sustain pic’s wide nationwide release past its April 25 bow. Word of mouth is unlikely to help.
A driver on London Underground’s network, lonely Paul Callow (Mackenzie Crook, best known for the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise) has had two people fall in front of his train with fatal results in the space of a couple weeks. Colleagues tell him the Underground has a secret policy, called the “three and out rule,” which decrees a driver who kills three people in the space of a month must be forcibly retired and paid off with the equivalent of 10 years’ salary. Eager to retire to a remote Scottish island and write a novel, Paul sets out to find someone suicidal enough to throw himself in front of Paul’s train, thus ensuring the big payoff.
Enter Tommy Cassidy (Meaney), a down, out and very desperate Irishman whom Paul stops from jumping off a bridge in order to make him an offer: If Tommy will face death by tube train next Monday morning, Paul will give him a handsome sum of money in advance to live it up (under Paul’s supervision) one last weekend. Tommy can leave the remaining moolah to his estranged family.
Tommy accepts the offer, and the two begin an adventure all too reminiscent of scads of movies where a withdrawn, younger character takes life lessons under the guidance of a charismatic older character, thus learning to take a chance on love/accept themselves/be adventurous/whatever.
In this case, over the course of a roadtrip to Tommy’s former stomping ground Liverpool and then the Lake District, Paul learns how to break into a house, blackmail people and romance Tommy’s feisty daughter Frankie (Gemma Arterton). Meanwhile, Tommy tries to reconcile with his wife Rosemary (Staunton), who’s none too happy he’s turned up out of the blue.
In Blighty, the national train drivers’ union has described the pic’s “three and out” premise as “insulting,” which is perhaps a little too shrill a reaction to what’s actually a fairly lame concept that kick-starts a comedy way more gray-tinged than black. (Literally so, as it happens — lensing on 16mm stock by Richard Greatrex has a dingy look throughout.)
In fact, the screenplay by Steve Lewis and Tony Owen lacks bite, and might have benefited from a stronger dose of gallows humor.
As the nominal lead, Crook mopes and looks on glumly as he’s upstaged at every turn by Meaney, as ever an engaging presence who gives a better perf (as does Staunton) than the material merits. Sher hams it up, raising some of the film’s few laughs, as a Frenchman who wants Paul to gradually eat and then kill him.