Movie Review – 3 Days to Kill (2014)
Once at the top of the Hollywood A-List, Kevin Costner has seen his successful career take a decade-long nosedive as he basically disappeared from cinemas. However, of late he’s had a mini resurgence of popularity especially after his well-received performance in the TV mini-series, Hatfields & McCoys which saw him reunited with director Kevin Reynolds who helmed Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Waterworld. After a decent turn in supporting parts for films such as the recent Jack Ryan reboot and Man of Steel, Costner now finds himself back in a major leading role with 3 Days to Kill. Unfortunately, for him, this is not the movie in which to re-establish his Hollywood credentials.
Kevin Costner is Ethan Renner, a low-level CIA agent whose career is at an end due to the unfortunate fact that he has terminal brain cancer. With precious little time left, Ethan decides to hop on a flight to Paris to visit his wife, Christine (Connie Nielsen), with hopes that he can now not only repair his relationship with her but also with his estranged daughter, Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld). If only things were that simple.
Seemingly out of luck, Ethan meets Vivi Delay (Amber Heard), a fellow CIA operative who gives him one last shot at redemption by giving him an offer he can’t refuse – to track down and kill noted terrorist The Albino and his boss, The Wolf, in exchange for an experimental drug that might extend his life thus, giving him more time to bond with his family. Out of options, Ethan relents and sets out of his dual quests to find his targets while trying to win back his family’s trust.
3 Days to Kill is a movie made entirely using a “kitchen sink” approach where screenwriters Luc Besson and Adi Hasak decide to throw numerous plot threads and sub plots together in an effort to construct a layered narrative. However, the only thing this accomplishes is muddying the story to the point of incoherence as it really feels like a monstrous Frankenstein concoction that has no central purpose.
Love him or hate him Luc Besson’s films usually are filled with snappy one-liners and kinetic, albeit, unbelievable action, yet both of these Besson trademarks are conspicuously absent in 3 Days to Kill. The film does try to tickle your funny bone but the jokes fall flat due to some suspect plot decisions that try to force humour into situations which definitely do not require it. On the other hand, the action sequences are so uninspired and shockingly devoid of artistic merit that it makes one wonder if director McG merely phoned in his orders to the crew in Paris while sipping on tequila somewhere in California. McG has always been criticized for focusing entirely too much on action and style over plot but the action in 3 Days to Kill might as well have been edited by a college freshman as it is completely devoid of tension and is flat-out dull.
Still, deficient off-beat quirky humour and stilted action scenes aside, the film’s biggest problem revolves around its central plot of forcing a dying CIA agent to reconcile with his estranged daughter even though he’s attempting this while on the clock. Admittedly, this setup, while nigh unbelievable, actually might have worked if the film managed to convince viewers that the Father-Daughter relationship was somehow compelling on some level but it fails to do so primarily because Costner and Hailee Steinfeld create zero chemistry, a fact mainly due to outright awful dialogue and suspect editing that seems to do everything to confuse.
Take one example that occurs about half way through the film when Zoey is about to get mercilessly gang raped in a swanky club’s bathroom and is thankfully saved by Ethan who appears and kicks everyone’s ass. The scene isn’t in any way original yet there will probably be precious few in the audience who don’t applaud Ethan as he basically decimates all the would-be rapists. Time to cheer…or not. That’s because the very next scene has Zoey waking up and basically scolding Ethan for butting in on her life as she basically pleads him to leave her to her own devices. It’s entirely awkward to watch and it does more to lower respect for Zoey’s character to the point where many of those same people who cheered her dad will now come to think of her as a totally spoiled and thoughtless child.
This sort of emotional waffling permeates the entire film as the tone constantly changes gears from scene to scene and all it accomplishes is constant alienation. Watching Ethan almost plead for fatherly advice might work except for the fact that he’s constantly asking for parental hints from those he has to torture for information. It is not at all funny nor is it believable in the least.
It is obvious that Luc Besson was trying to weave his trademark over-the-top storytelling style into the mix but his particular brand of action filmmaking really only works when everyone involved understands the sheer hokeyness of the production. In reality, the only performer who recognizes this is actually Amber Heard whose Vivi Delay is a totally bizarre femme fatale replete with ridiculously over-sexualized attire from her bleached blond wig, bright flaming red lipstick, high-heeled pumps and a bodysuit so tight it leaves precious little to the imagination. It’s so overtly sexualized that it borders on farce but that is specifically the whole point as Heard gets the memo that her character is purposely meant to be absurdly stylized. If super spies dressed like Vivi they’d be so easy to spot a mile away, not to mention the ridiculous amount of sexual objectification they would have to endure.
Nevertheless, Vivi feels as if she is in a totally different film considering the fact that Costner and Steinfeld seem to take the material at face value by focusing on the dramatic aspects of the plot instead of realizing that they are essentially in a live-action cartoon. The movie maintains some degree of worth when Vivi is hamming it up on screen and she manages to at least have some exchanges with Ethan that might cause a chuckle or two but whenever Costner and Steinfeld are on screen the movie’s pace completely flatlines.
3 Days to Kill concentrates far too much on attempted Father-Daughter bonding to the point where viewers will undoubtedly tune out. Watching the duo slowly open up to each other should be cathartic and emotional but instead director McG decides to constantly throw montages together that consist of Zoey and Ethan on merry-go-rounds or learning how to ride a bicycle. The bicycle sequence in particular is especially turgid since it is essentially the emotional climax of a bunch of events that include the attempted gang rape. After chiding her father mercilessly on saving her from such a horrendous event the sequence cuts immediately to the duo learning how to ride the bike. It is almost as if director McG removed many of the linking scenes and left them on the cutting room floor to get the run time below two hours but in doing so he removed all the relevant exposition.
The strong focus on the Father-Daughter relationship totally derails the entire other half of the movie pertaining to Ethan and his hunt for the Albino which unfathomably has even lesser amounts of logical explanation. Ethan has always been a regular CIA agent so it comes as no surprise that he always follows Vivi’s instructions about where to go and what to do but it also makes him incredibly passive as there aren’t any sequences where he needs to think on his feet.
Not to mention the fact that the movie falls squarely into the realm of the absurd when Ethan comes only armed with a basic handgun throughout the entire film and is blessed with God-like aim considering he can kill anyone even though they are hundreds of feet away. This “skill” is clearly meant to be farcical in nature but once again director McG and Costner both play it as realistic as possible instead of reveling in the sheer audaciousness of it all much like what Jason Stratham accomplished in Luc Besson’s Transporter trilogy.
It’s great that Kevin Costner has returned to headline feature films but 3 Days to Kill isn’t the breakout project required in order to return him to box office prominence. With its totally ridiculous U-turns in tone to the oftentimes stilted and totally perfunctory dialogue the film never manages to strike a proper balance between pure cheese and drama that is so necessary for Luc Besson’s particular brand of action comedy. With jokes that don’t tickle your funny bone to action so rote that you might mistake it for a hundred other movies this is one film that clearly would have benefited with ten more drafts before being greenlit.
* ½ out of ****
2014, USA/France, 117 Minutes, Europacorp, PG-13
Directed by McG
Screenplay by Adi Hasak & Luc Besson
Story by Luc Besson
Produced by Luc Besson, Adi Hasak, Ryan Kavanaugh, Marc Libert, Virginie Silla
Executive Producer Tucker Tooley
Music by Guillaume Roussel
Cinematography by Thierry Arbogast
Film Editing by Audrey Simonaud
Kevin Costner: Ethan Renner
Amber Heard: Vivi Delay
Hailee Steinfeld: Zoey Renner
Connie Nielsen: Christine Renner
Tómas Lemarquis: The Albino
Richard Sammel: The Wolf
Marc Andréoni: Mitat Yilmaz
Bruno Ricci: Guido
Jonas Bloquet: Hugh
Eriq Ebouaney: Jules
Joakhim Sigue: Abbate
Alison Valence: Sumia
Big John: Louis
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