Simon Pegg’s newest movie, an Australian dark comedy called Kill Me Three Times, is finally seeing a limited cinematic release in the US. The movie, about a hitman named Charlie Wolfe (Pegg) who gets involved in a complicated insurance scheme and blackmail plot, is one of those fabulously violent and ironic comedies where almost everyone dies. As always, Pegg is a delight to watch and he captures the debonair, amoral, sociopathic Wolfe with equal parts humor and cool. But Pegg has always been pretty reliable – not just in his performances, but also in his writing, and choice of projects. While a lot of his recent work is probably well known – from his role as Scotty in Star Trek to his recurring character in Mission Impossible – there are some little gems out there that warrant further investigation.
Okay, this is probably his best known work from his early career, but maybe you haven’t heard of it or even seen it. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg (and Nick Frost) have been friends and collaborators for a long time. Before the Cornetto Trilogy, there was a British television show called Spaced about a group of wacky and aimless friends who are just trying to find their way in life. It stars Pegg alongside Nick Frost, Jessica Hynes, with appearances by Bill Bailey, Ricky Gervais, Peter Serafinowicz, John Simm, Mark Gatiss, and Olivia Williams. It perfectly sums up those wayward years of waning youth when you haven’t gotten your life or career in order and you find yourself drifting in a hopeful complacence. We’ve all been there.
Black Books – Episode 03.01 (2004)
This is another unusual British comedy about an unsocial man named Bernard Black (Dylan Moran) who owns a book shop and spends all his time reading, drinking, smoking, and abusing patrons. It is one of my favorite shows, partly because it expresses my innermost desires as a service industry professional – that, and its an inventive and wildly funny show about what is essentially a band of misfits and outcasts. In no episode is this more obvious than in the season three opener called “Manny Comes Home”, in which Bill Bailey quits Black Books and starts working for the corporate chain bookstore next door. Pegg plays Manny’s supervisor at the bookstore, an over-the-top take on the cult-like nature of corporations, but also makes you realize how alien “normalcy” feels after three seasons with the Black Books gang. Is Pegg’s character really that “out there”, or is it merely the perception of the maladjusted friends?
Big Nothing (2006)
This is a really weird movie, and I’m not entirely convinced I even like it. I watched this some time ago when I was going through Pegg’s filmography and haven’t seen it since. Its a British movie with an almost entirely British cast who all pretend to be American. This may or may not have to do with the casting of David Schwimmer, who may or may not be able to do a British accent. In any case, its a movie about a blackmail plot undertaken by a group of schmoes that goes terribly wrong, much to no one’s surprise. It reminds me subtly of Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave (1994), but much less restrained and more blatantly humorous. I have a hard time getting by David Schwimmer as a presence in a movie, but I do very much enjoy dark comedies like this one.
Burke and Hare (2010)
Americans aren’t used to seeing Andy Serkis outside of a computer animated shell. He appeared briefly in his own body during Lord of the Rings before he transformed from Smeagol into Gollum, but that’s about it. In England, he’s a well known actor, adept at both the comedic and dramatic (you should check out his performance as Albert Einstein in Einstein and Eddington). In this movie, yet another dark comedy, Serkis partners up with Pegg as a grave robbing duo in Victorian England. The movie is based on the true story of two entrepreneurs who make a living by selling the corpses to medical schools. As quality bodies from graves run dry, the operation turns inevitably to murder. Pegg plays the morally conflicted partner of the two, pulled into the operation by his love for a woman and the intimacy his wealth affords him. Pegg displays his dependable comedic timing alongside some truly heartbreaking dramatic moments.
The Death and Return of Superman – Short (2011)
Sometimes viral videos can go overlooked, so know that this is definitely one that you should see. Pegg has an incredibly small part, but that hardly matters in the grand scheme of the thing. This is a critical summary of DC’s death and return of Superman storyline, in which a narrator (director John Landis’ son, Max Landis) explains the backstory and plot while various performers act out the scenarios. The video is extremely low budget and relies mainly on on location playacting, decent cinematography, great writing, and high profile appearances to balance budget restraints. Other appearances include Mandy Moore, Elijah Wood, Chris Hardwick, and Ron Howard. Pegg plays the narrator’s father teaching him about the rules of writing, explaining that you could kill a vampire any way you want because vampires don’t exist. Similarly, you can kill or resurrect Superman or any other comic book super hero, because they don’t exist either.
The Olympic Ticket Scalper – Short (2012)
I mentioned this one in my Patrick Stewart article, but here it is again. During the 2012 Olympics, Patrick Stewart starred in an internet short as a Victorian conman who scalped tickets for the Olympics. Simon Pegg comes along and admonishes Stewart for taking advantage of people, but then ends up buying a ticket from him to the 400 Men’s Swimming Relay – stolen straight from Olympian Ryan Lochte and effectively entering Pegg into the competition. It is probably one of the best things to come out of the 2012 Olympics – aside from that video of James Bond escorting the Queen via parachute to the opening ceremony.