3 Days to Kill (United States, 2014)

February 23, 2014
A movie review by James Berardinelli
3 Days to Kill Poster

How did 3 Days to Kill, which doesn’t have the worst imaginable premise, turn out this bad? The problem starts with the screenplay, co-credited to Adi Hasak and over-the-top action aficionado Luc Besson. Still, although the more serious aspects of the script, especially the cliché-riddled fractious father/daughter relationship, lack flair, the writing on the whole isn’t terrible. Besson in particular knows how to mix genres and never takes things too seriously. It’s pretty evident he intended 3 Days to Kill to be a comedy thriller. Unfortunately, single-moniker director McG (Charlie’s Angels) didn’t get the memo.

Sure, there’s some wacky humor to be found in the final cut. The scenes featuring Amber Heard are weird enough to convey a sense of what Besson was likely going for. However, Kevin Costner is so somber and serious that he sucks out any sense of fun. Costner has made his share of comedies but it’s apparent he didn’t see this as one. Worse, the action scenes - which are pedestrian at best - are shunted off to the side to make room for one of the most tedious estranged father-wins-back-daughter’s-affection subplots ever to grace the silver screen. This material is awful. Costner and Hailee Steinfeld play the scenes like they were written by a great dramatist but every phrase they utter is hackneyed, there’s minimal chemistry between them, and nothing they do carries any emotional weight. It’s artificial, annoying, and boring. There’s not a single human moment in this film and any minimal momentum McG generates comes to a dead stop when these two are interacting.

The storyline transpires in Besson’s alternate universe where cops are incompetent boobs who never do anything more than interfere on the periphery and the laws of physics are suspended when required by the plot. Costner plays Ethan Renner, a CIA lifer who is diagnosed with a form of inoperable brain cancer that causes him black out at inopportune moments (like when he’s about to bring down the bad guy). The doctors give him three months to live, so he quits his job and heads back to his home in Paris to reconnect with his estranged wife, Christine (Connie Nielsen), and daughter, Zoey (Steinfeld). The teenager is resentful of him (evident by her insistence in calling him “Ethan” instead of “Dad”) so, when Mom conveniently has to leave the country for a few days, Ethan offers to play babysitter. This leads to tender moments at an amusement park and an adorable scene in which Ethan teaches his daughter how to ride a bike. Gag.

The CIA isn’t quite ready to let Ethan go. Top operative Vivi Delay (Amber Heard) needs his help to take out a couple of terrorist-types, The Albino (Tomas Lemarquis) and The Wolf (Richard Sammel). She offers him a deal: if he kills both of them, she’ll give him access to an experimental drug that will extend his life. Unfortunately for Ethan, the period when Vivi requires his cooperation coincides with the time when he’s chaperoning Zoey. Hilarity ensues. Not really.

It’s easy enough to see the film’s comedic potential and just as easy to identify how badly it botches the opportunity. Just about the only thing McG gets right is the handling of Vivi. She’s a bizarre, off-the-wall character - a living monument to fetishes of all flavors. The PG-13 rating, which McG constantly pushes, is at its most restrictive when she’s around. One gets the sense that, given some latitude, McG might have gone full-R with this character. Heard is deliciously over-the-top and livens things up when she’s on screen. Unfortunately, that’s maybe 10-15 minutes. The rest of time, we’re stuck with a brooding, grizzled, unshaven Costner.

The thing about 3 Days to Kill isn’t that every other line of dialogue sounds canned and every other action causes the viewer’s eyes to roll. It’s that the movie isn’t fun. And, more than anything else, Luc Besson stands for fun. Stupid fun, perhaps. Silly, violent fun, for sure. But fun. 3 Days to Kill is a slog. A chore. A tiresome 113 minutes in a theater that makes the idea of grouting the bathroom tiles seem preferable. After a number of years in relative obscurity, Costner has decided to re-emerge. Because I like and respect him, I’m glad to know he has several projects in the works. It’s just a shame this is one of them.

3 Days to Kill (United States, 2014)

Director: McG
Cast: Kevin Costner, Hailee Steinfeld, Amber Heard, Connie Nielsen, Tomas Lemarquis, Richard Sammel
Screenplay: Adi Hasak & Luc Besson
Cinematography: Thierry Arbogast
Music: Guillaume Roussel
U.S. Distributor: Relativity Media
Run Time: 1:53
U.S. Release Date: 2014-02-21
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Sexual Content, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1