by Philip Price
From the opening moments of ”3 Days to Kill” I wasn't sure whether I was supposed to be laughing or not. That the first real "name" we see on screen comes in the form of Amber Heard is nothing but disheartening, but when you start throwing in nicknamed bad guys like "the albino" and "the wolf" I think everyone sat back in their seats and immediately realized what type of movie we were in for. As Luc Besson has done ever since truly breaking through in America with “Taken” six years ago it seems he has been keen to write another action hit starring a credible, middle-aged actor at the center of it. Granted, Besson only writes these things and hardly directs, but his distinct European flavor is written all over them and while neither “Lockout” nor this will work the way Neeson's surprise hit did it was nice to see Kevin Costner give it a try and it was surprising, if not concerning, to see McG behind the wheel of another seemingly brainless action movie that if not proving to be exactly artistic could at least be fun. The guy has directed competent action/comedies before, I actually enjoyed the two “Charlie's Angels” films though history doesn't look too kindly on them now, but has had a rocky road of swaying back and forth between genres since and has never really found a way to re-gain his footing. This is also the problem with ”3 Days to Kill” as not only does it not know what it wants to be, but it never seems to gain its footing in the first place. From the opening sequence that has Costner's senior CIA agent tripping and coughing through a large European hotel we are made to think he is going to be the nonchalant charmer who does his incredibly difficult job with an ease that makes him appealing, but instead it simply turns out he is in the right place at the right time and there isn't necessarily anything special about him other than the fact that he is dying and sees the error of his ways in choosing to chase bad guys rather than develop meaningful relationships with his wife and daughter. ”3 Days to Kill” could have easily been that dumb fun action flick that sees Costner re-gain some of his prime in a leading role, but instead it just turns out to be dumb with an identity crisis that leaves us nothing if not discontent.
As mentioned above, it is in that opening sequence that the disconnect would already begin to make itself known. There was something odd about it, something in the editing, in the mashing together of what seemed to be footage taken with different types of cameras and the juxtaposing of the quality of those images. There was almost no sense of location, no sense of where everyone was in relation to those who were pulling out guns and shooting everyone in sight. At one point I literally thought the group of bad guys were shooting a glass wall so they could step through to the outside and have quicker access to a vehicle, but they were actually shooting a wall to step out onto the roof for no other reason than to seemingly allow Costner's Ethan Renner to fire at them from below. Once the purpose of this set-up comes full circle in it displaying the effects of Ethan's illness on his day job and even justifying some of the weird camera and editing choices we are dropped into a film that wants to become ex-CIA badass figuring out how to deal with his teenage daughter. It is absolutely, one hundred percent, playing off those ideas of this guy being a trained killer and that he has accomplished so many things in his life and throughout the world, but when faced with the challenge of a teenager he's as helpless as the rest of us. It is corny, it tries to make this dynamic work as Ethan is then pulled back into his job on the promise of an experimental drug that could prolong his life. It's part making up for lost time, learning how to bond and part hiding daddy's true identity and catching the bad guy on the down low so said daughter really knows he's committed this time and won't disappear again anytime soon. That daughter, Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld), is one of the only appealing aspects of the film as she is the only one who gives Ethan anything substantial to work with, but as we see him go back and forth between Zoey and this assignment of tracking down odds and ends to lead him to these faceless terrorists we come to realize we have no real interest in whether or not he ultimately takes down "the wolf" but more that he becomes the man he wanted to be that will see him coming to terms with the fact that what he did for a living doesn't define the man he is.
“3 Days to Kill” never becomes even this enlightening though and despite the fact that I honestly wondered at one point early in the film if it would end up giving us more than we bargained for, more than we could ask for from this type of film it was quick to clear up any confusion in showing the audience it had no real interest in putting perspective on its protagonists life, but wanted to do little more than entertain which (while not exactly captivating or interesting) it only manages to be about half the time. The issue lies in the tone of the film though because despite the fact I think McG knew what he wanted this film to be, he just isn't exactly sure how to get it there or even how to convey it correctly (though I'm sure there could have been plenty of people to help him do this if he actually had a clear vision). These tonal problems come in when the fact that Ethan only has a few months to live and that he immediately regrets what he's used his time on earth for. It is rather heavy handed stuff and if dealt with in a compelling fashion might afford the audience to buy into this as a genuine dramatic film with elements of action, something Costner is well-seasoned at and would serve his persona well. It is at every turn once the film gets into the meat of its plot though that it wants to deliver laughs and make light of the double identity life that Ethan is leading. If McG did in fact know what he wanted to do with this material it never comes through in the finished product and this type of swaying between the range of emotions and genres is never done with subtlety but with as heavy a hand that makes everything feel forced and staged rather than appealing to our characters at a natural pace. Speaking of forced, let’s not even talk about how Besson resolves this thing as he brings in a twist that attempts to tie the two storylines together but is nothing short of contrived and if anything discredits what little credit the movie had going for it. Pair this with the incredibly common soundtrack that builds and swells in all the right places if they wanted to make this thing even cornier than they do with its shooting style and dialogue as well as the horribly choreographed and captured fight sequences and you have something that makes you wonder who thought this was a good idea.
What ultimately comes to be redeeming about this movie though is the goofy chemistry between the actors and the earnest way you can see them truly trying to make this work even though they are aware of how much of an exercise in standard this whole thing is. Steinfeld, who I worried might have been a one and done with her terrific performance in “True Grit” has been able to turn herself into at least a credible presence for now, but she brings the father/daughter dynamic some real bite here giving her father what feels like more of a challenge than those on the bad side of the CIA. She is naturally a bit exaggerated, but not to the point we don't believe that she turned out to be the way she has with only her mother around to raise her and the culture she is not inherent to. Connie Nielsen gets a bit part as the estranged wife of Ethan and mother to Zoey, but the point of the film is that she leaves town for a few days granting Ethan the opportunity to step up and prove he's there to stay so she doesn't have much to do, but when she does return she does it in fine enough form and strangely lends a sense of those great ‘90s action B-movies to the proceedings that likely imply more stylistic references than anyone intended. Then there is the case of Heard who I really believe cheapens everything she takes part in and here gets the most out of left field things to participate that, unless I'm missing something major, make zero sense and only exist to further confirm the fact that she needs to play the same type of domineering dominatrix in every movie. As for Costner himself, well he wears a lot of scarves and popped collars in this movie and it starts to feel as forced as the rest of the elements, but otherwise he is rather charming as the disheveled American in a country where he is clearly looked down upon at every encounter and proves his self-worth by bullying those into submission to get what he wants. He develops fun and at least entertaining relationships with a luxury car service owner (Marc Andreoni) who assists him with acclimating to the current teenager landscape while having an odd yet slightly touching relationship with a group of squatters that have taken up residence in his apartment. I'm not entirely sure why so much time is devoted to them or why they are present (other than to show the importance of family, just seems an odd way to do it) but it's the small things such as this that keep ”3 Days to Kill” from completely floundering under its own confusion.