It’s easy, on a theoretical level, to imagine 59-year-old Kevin Costner looking at the post-Taken action flick paydays of Liam Neeson, two years his elder, and saying, “Hey, why not me?” It’s less easy to understand anything else about the mishmash that is 3 Days to Kill, an incredibly inane shoot-’em-up from director McG that mistakes self-satisfaction for vicarious entertainment. Co-written by Luc Besson, 3 Days to Kill is much more of an action-comedy than its advertising lets on—though that may be a smart bait-and-switch by distributor Relativity Media given that tonal clumsiness and a stunning lack of attention to detail are the film’s two most consistent traits.
Costner stars as Ethan Renner, a 32-year veteran of the CIA tasked with taking out a terrorist-and-sidekick combo known as the Wolf (Richard Sammel) and the Albino (Tómas Lemarquis), who are trying to unload stolen nuclear material on the black market. After that operation goes sideways before either of the aforementioned bad guys can be neutralized, Ethan receives word that he has cancer and only a few months to live, so he heads to Paris in an effort to reconnect with his estranged wife, Tina (Connie Nielsen), and teenage daughter, Zooey (Hailee Steinfeld).
When not bickering with the African immigrant (Eriq Ebouaney) whose extended family has taken up residence in his abandoned apartment, Ethan gets busy making amends and sizing up his daughter’s boyfriend, Hugh (Jonas Bloquet). Using an experimental life-prolonging serum as leverage, CIA handler Vivi (Amber Heard) lures Ethan back into a lethal mission to squeeze out the Wolf and Albino—a matter which he tries to keep secret while also playing concerned dad and finally teaching his daughter to ride a bicycle.
3 Days to Kill is so atrocious that there’s enough blame to be spread around, but it announces its pro forma hackishness right out of the gate with an important CIA meeting that apparently takes place in a vast lobby. Besson and his co-writer, Adi Hasak, establish capital-T Themes (Family! Death! Rebirth!) with all the poise and subtlety of an amphetamine-addled ferret turned loose in a 10-square-foot Fabergé egg store. 3 Days to Kill means to mine some of the same culture-clash and familial-displacement comedy found in Besson’s own recent The Family, as well as paternal exasperation and nervousness (“Teenage daughters, amirite?!”).
But the ideas here are lame, and the characterizations are all thin; especially egregious is Vivi, who comes off like some vapid idea of vamp-cool from an offshoot film noir cousin of the narrative proper. The parts of the story that aren’t arguably offensive (porting Magical Negro tropes across the Atlantic, as well as contriving a dopy sexual assault of Zooey just so Ethan can swoop in and save the day with a hero shot that purposefully echoes The Bodyguard) are dispiritingly broad.
3 Days to Kill peddles all sorts of other fantasy bullcrap (the idea that terrorists who have never been photographed conduct meetings in swanky hotels and have standing appointments with posh accountants), and its comedy bits (Ethan getting interrupted by phone calls from Zooey while interrogating/torturing suspects), which aren’t as clever as the filmmakers believe them to be in the first place, additionally abut the mission material quite awkwardly.
The movie’s unswerving inattention to detail might be its most damning characteristic, however, and it’s hard to tell how much of that ends on the page. The movie quickly shunts Tina off to the side; when Ethan arrives, she tasks him with looking after Zooey the night before leaving on an out-of-town business trip. (She apparently made no prior plans, telling Ethan that she’s going to call a sitter before he stops her.) Later, a boy points at watch hands that would indicate Ethan wears his watch upside down. These and more than a dozen other faux pas are indicative of the slipshod level of craftsmanship with which the film is riddled.
As with his most recent stab at action-comedy, This Means War, McG demonstrates no particular skill at establishing a coherent pitch to accommodate recognizable human emotion alongside action excess. (To the degree that they worked, his Charlie’s Angels movies succeeded chiefly as insouciant baubles, owing mostly to the buoyant charisma and rapport of its leads.) Since viewers are told that Vivi’s cancer-battling injections act like a hallucinogen if Ethan’s heart rate gets elevated, this gives 3 Days to Kill protective cover for “the full McG,” with canted, woozy point-of-view shots and other affected flourishes when Ethan gets tired. The action, however, is frequently incoherently staged. The only thing 3 Days to Kill murders is 117 minutes, and viewers’ patience and goodwill.
Writers: Luc Besson & Adi Hasak, based on a story by Luc Besson
Starring: Kevin Costner, Hailee Steinfeld, Amber Heard, Connie Nielsen, Tómas Lemarquis, Richard Sammel, Jonas Bloquet, Eriq Ebouaney
Release Date: Feb. 21, 2014