’3 Days to Kill’ Review
The promise of ‘3 Days to Kill‘: If Kevin Costner can assassinate a laundry list of people in three days, he’ll receive the antidote to his terminal illness. The reality of ’3 Days to Kill’: If Kevin Costner can assassinate an indeterminable amount of people over an indeterminable amount of time while juggling quality time with his estranged daughter, then he’ll continue being given treatment to his terminal illness, which he has been receiving since the beginning of the movie. For those who thought ‘Taken’ needed more filler, this movie.
Written and produced by French action-factory Luc Besson and executed by popcorn soldier McG, ’3 Days to Kill’ capitalizes on the veteran-actor-as-action-hero phenomenon in the laziest possible fashion. Costner radiates “cool dad” vibes, but it’s not enough to invigorate the film’s stunted action, contrived suggestion of intrigue, or lethal doses of father/daughter sentimentality. Besson has written this movie before, so his tactic to spruce it up is voluntary limpness.
Even the inevitable utterance of the film’s title as dialogue is botched: In the film’s trailer, we see a mysterious femme fatale tells Costner’s Ethan Renner, “That’s the job — you have three days to kill.” That line doesn’t make it into the movie. It’s replaced with a throwaway line from his daughter Zooey (Hailee Steinfeld), who, upon learning of her weekend plans, tells her father, “I guess we have three days to kill.”
As with most of Besson’s English-language films, Renner’s cat-and-mouse game arbitrarily takes place across the streets of Paris. Costner never fits in, despite calling The City of Light home. After a botched mission, the former C.I.A. spy retreats to Paris to play out the final days of his life and, hopefully, reconnect with the daughter. His ex-wife has one stipulation: If Renner is going to pretend to be a caring father, he has to stop killing people for a living. Easier said than done. A day into his return, close-talker Vivi Delay (Amber Heard) recruits the ailing expat to track down and kill The Wolf, a terrorist ringleader only he can identify. What nefarious plan the Wolf has up his sleeve is a fuzzy detail better left unexplained. Vivi just needs Renner to shoot some guys in the face. If he does, she can cure his cancer. Apparently.
Blame it on the one-two punch of ‘Terminator Salvation’ and ‘This Means War,’ but ’3 Days to Kill’ is a considerable step down for director McG. Gone are his slick, music video sensibilities, replaced by a grungy aesthetic that feels claustrophobic in the trenches of France. Luckily, Costner can land his punches — but he’s a badass with or without assistance from his director. ’3 Days’ lacks brutality; its hero is so efficient that hand-to-hand fight scenes and a major car chase two-thirds feel like watching a plumber fix a pipe leak. Perhaps knowing that his set pieces lack ferocity, McG constantly turns to GoPro-like clamp cameras to add visceral motion to the movie. On the big screen, it looks like home video footage.
He’s working from a nightmare script Besson and Adi Hasak (‘From Paris with Love’), both of whom have never seen an ethnic stereotype, cheap laugh or hammy dramatic trope they didn’t like. Where ‘Taken’ was boiled down to its necessary elements, ’3 Days’ is overstuffed. Renner doesn’t juggle his bloody sleuthing and familial duties, he’s jolted back and forth between them. It’s the dramatic equivalent of Interrupting Cow.
Even as the script meanders — there’s an entire subplot dedicated to an African family squatting in Renner’s apartment (which may be more common in Paris than this ignorant American is aware?) that falls flat in its attempts to complicate the family drama — Costner and Steinfeld prove their worth. The young actress has a rare naturalism that most “feisty teenager” roles fail to muster up. Costner is better at struggling with fatherly duties than he is busting skulls. A scene where Zooey has to learn to ride a bicycle is inherently hokey and unbelievable — her dad wasn’t around from ages 11 to 16…is that when most people learn to bike? — but their father/daughter chemistry is ripe with sweetness. It turns to sour when Besson and McG know they’re on to something. The movie goes too far without going anywhere at all, Besson having no ear for the pace, tone, and heart of his movie. Before he takes off to throw a few faceless goons off hotel balconies, his wife asks Renner if he has really given up his spy career, if he wants to be part of her and Zooey’s life. “I love her the same way I love you,” he says before they make sweet, sweet love. What?’3 Days to Kill’ opens on February 20.
Matt Patches is a writer and reporter whose work has been featured on New York Magazine’s Vulture, Time Out New York, Film.com, and Hollywood.com. He is the host of the pop culture podcast Fighting in the War Room.