D: McG / 123m
Cast: Kevin Costner, Amber Heard, Hailee Steinfeld, Connie Nielsen, Tómas Lemarquis, Richard Sammel, Marc Andréoni, Bruno Ricci, Jonas Bloquet, Eriq Ebouaney
Veteran CIA agent Ethan Renner (Costner) is part of a mission to capture international terrorist The Wolf (Sammel). Acting on intelligence that his associate The Albino (Lemarquis) is selling a dirty bomb at a hotel in Belgrade, Ethan and his team attempt to capture him but the mission goes wrong when The Albino recognises one of Ethan’s team. The Albino makes his escape in the ensuing shootout; Ethan chases him but finds himself short of breath, and he collapses. Despite being wounded, The Albino gets away. Ethan blacks out. Later, in a local hospital, a doctor tells him he has cancer, and at best, has 3-5 months to live.
Having been pensioned off from the CIA, Ethan moves to Paris where his estranged wife, Tina (Nielsen), and daughter Zooey (Steinfeld) live. He tries to reestablish his relationship with Zooey but his first attempts are clumsy and backfire on him. When Tina has to go to London for a few days, Ethan persuades her that he can look after Zooey, and he moves into their apartment. That same day, Ethan is approached by Vivi Delay (Heard), a senior CIA agent who wants him to continue looking for The Wolf, and offers him an experimental drug that will stave off the effects of his cancer enough to extend his life by a few more months. Ethan accepts the job. He begins targeting known associates of The Wolf and The Albino, until he learns that The Albino will be in Paris in a few days’ time.
His relationship with Zooey improves slowly, and is cemented when he saves her from being raped in a nightclub. As their time together becomes more and more important to Zooey, Ethan has to juggle the demands made on him as a father, and as an agent. Tina returns home and is pleased to see Ethan and Zooey getting on so well, and she and Ethan have a reconciliation. His mission to capture The Wolf comes to a head when Zooey’s boyfriend Hugh (Bloquet) invites them to a party at his parents’ home, and in one of those amazing moments of serendipity that exist only in the movies, it turns out that Hugh’s father is The Wolf’s Paris business partner, and he’s there as well.
Another low-concept idea from the mind of Luc Besson, 3 Days to Kill bears all the hallmarks of a hastily put together movie production and lurches from one badly thought out scene to another, trading on Costner’s innate gravitas as an actor (and then doing it’s best to undermine that gravitas with some ill-considered comedy beats), and complete with awful dialogue and weak characterisations. Not one of the relationships foisted on us by Besson and co-writer Adi Hasak is at all plausible, and Ethan himself is a bizarre combination of action hero, concerned absentee father, and comedic torturer. The movie is full of awkward moments that add nothing to the plot but do succeed in padding out the running time. There is a whole third-string storyline involving Ethan’s apartment and the family of squatters that have taken it over; unable to evict them, Ethan allows his anger at their being there to develop into a strange paternal devotion: when one of patriarch Jules’s (Ebouaney) daughters has a child in the apartment, Ethan is on hand to become a de facto godfather (and hold the baby).
Even more bizarre is the character of Vivi Delay, portrayed by Heard as a mixture of modern-day vamp and emotionally vacant dominatrix. The actress’ interpretation of the role is (hopefully) based on what direction there is in the script, but if it’s not then it’s a freakish performance and one that makes Heard look like an amateur trying to break free from regional theatre. Even the way she delivers her lines – arch, and laced with undisguised sarcasm – makes them sound like a first draft reading, and it’s a relief that she’s not on screen any more than she is. Steinfeld is equally guilty of putting in a sub-par performance, giving us a moody teenager that no one would believe in, and failing to make Zooey’s relationship with Ethan anything other perfunctory and/or glib (depending on a scene’s requirements). Nielsen has the thankless role of mother removed for the sake of the plot, while Costner (who has said he liked the character of Ethan, but didn’t like the movie) does his best with one of the most uneven roles of his career. (You know an actor’s in trouble when his character name is a combination of Ethan Hunt and Jeremy Renner from Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.) Looking uncomfortable throughout, and burdened with the daunting prospect of injecting some credibility into the proceedings, Costner does just enough to keep the audience from tuning out completely, and shows that it’s not only Liam Neeson who can still kick ass at an advanced age (Costner is 59).
Under the less than capable direction of McG, 3 Days to Kill is a mess of a movie that only moves up a notch with its action scenes, including a cleverly constructed kidnapping involving a bus, a bicycle, and a small claymore mine. The Paris locations are also worth mentioning, as is the somewhat bucolic score by Guillaume Roussel, and the often tightly-framed compositions of veteran cinematographer Thierry Arbogast. As a thrill ride, the movie is fitfully effective, but as an absorbing, entertaining piece it’s as lightweight as a feather, with too many narrative absurdities than it could ever overcome, including the experimental drug that only Vivi knows anything about (oh yeah?).
Rating: 4/10 – a second-hand script (replete with Besson’s recurring penchant for casual racism) masquerading as a polished action movie, 3 Days to Kill never lives up to its initial promise; with weak direction and the kind of cast that deserves more, the movie struggles to establish the same tone throughout, and boasts the kind of unlucky central performance from its star that, in the Nineties, would have doomed his career quicker than The Postman did.