A film review by Craig J. Koban March 3, 2014 


2014, PG-13, 113 mins.


Kevin Costner as Ethan Renner  /  Amber Heard as Vivi Delay  /  Hailee Steinfeld as Zoey Renner  /  Connie Nielsen as Christine Renner  /  Richard Sammel as The Wolf  /  Tómas Lemarquis as The Albino  /  Marc Andréoni as Mitat Yilmaz  /  Eriq Ebouaney as Jules

Directed by McG  /  Written by Luc Besson and Adi Hasak

3 DAYS TO KILL is as odd of a cinematic mishmash as I’ve ever seen.  It features Kevin Costner as the lead, director McG at the helm, as is co-written by Euro-action trash connoisseur Luc Besson.  

At times, all of these divergent pieces can be felt throughout the film, as it frequently struggles with a precise and consistent tone to maintain throughout (that, and as far as spy espionage films go, the screenplay throws in everything but the proverbial kitchen sink).  Still, it’s 3 DAYS TO KILL’s inherent peculiarity that makes the film oddly watchable and entertaining, and Costner – who seems to be on a bit of a mini-career comeback as of late – handles all of the film's preposterousness with a charming and straight-faced detachment.  Without his involvement, this film could have been potentially unbearable, but with him it’s on solid footing. 

The film’s trailers, to its credit, did a rather brilliant job of hiding key aspects of the film’s location and plot points.  Costner plays Ethan Renner, a CIA hitman that has devoted his life to eradicating enemies in as clean of a manner as possible for the interests of his country.  After a hit goes afoul – in the film’s wonderfully staged opening sequence – Ethan discovers that he has inoperable brain cancer, which causes him to black out at the most inopportune moments (not a good thing if you’re a stealthy assassin).  He’s given a lifespan of just three months, so instead of continuing on with his clandestine life, Ethan decides to return home to France and try to reconnect with his estranged wife Christine (Connie Nielson) and petulant teenage daughter, Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld).  Ethan’s main problem with his daughter is that he has been an absentee paternal figure for nearly six years to her, which has left Zoey with a deep seeded hatred of her dad. 



Rather conveniently (at least as far as plotting goes), the mother has to leave the country for a few days, which leaves the dying and in-over-his-head Ethan alone with Zoey.  Complicating matters to the extreme is the fact that the CIA does not seem to want to let Ethan retire.  One of the agency’s most promising and determined young operatives, Vivi Delay (Amber Heard, not entirely credible here) seeks out Ethan and gives him an opportunity that’s very hard to turn down: Help her kill a couple of terrorists, The Wolf (Richard Sammel) and The Albino (Tomas Lemarquis) and she will, in turn, give him access to a new experimental medication that will thoroughly extend his life.  Now, on any normal plane of logical reality, the steely-eyed veteran that is Ethan would need more than Vivi’s word about the proposed drug, but he very quickly agrees to the mission and jabs a needle of the high-tech medicine into his arm without much hesitation.  Alas, the drug has side-effects, which stymies his mission, and also makes re-establishing a loving bond with Zoey all the more problematic. 

3 DAYS TO KILLS is a very silly movie.  Very silly.  It asks – nah, begs – us to accept all of its incredulous plot developments without blinking an eye.  You kind of just have to laugh at the sheer eye-rolling absurdity here, like the fact that Ethan – aside from the aforementioned drug side effects – seems mighty healthy for a cancerous man that’s got nearly both feet in the grave.  You also have to chuckle at the manner that he so easily allows himself to be aligned with the mysterious Vivi, who’s played by Heard more as a parading runway fashion model than as a lethally cunning CIA operative (to her credit, though, the script fails the character in terms of developing her).  And speaking of scripting, the extended subplot of Ethan and Zoey trying to rekindle a loving father/daughter spark hits every proverbial beat in the cliché book.  Nothing that happens between them is particularity inspired or original.   

Yet, having said all of that, why do I like this film?  Well, even though 3 DAYS TO KILL is filled with narrative lunacy, it never tries to hide behind it, as most of Besson’s European flavored action pictures adhere to.  You simply reach a point where you just give up and give in to all of film’s borderline ambitious nonsensicality.  Helping things considerably, again, is the reliably stalwart presence of Costner on screen, whom at 59 has become more grizzled looking, more tired and world weary, and perhaps a more interesting actor to watch now.  Rather slyly, he never plays his role broadly or for easy laughs, but rather harnesses every scene he occupies with a gruff, tough, and low key intensity and straight-laced charisma that acts as an effective foil to the film’s ridiculousness.  His scenes with Hailee Steinfeld – even though they operate on pure autopilot in terms of its trajectory – still have a nice understated and immediate chemistry.  Steinfeld is an unendingly natural screen presence, and she certainly does what she can – like her elder co-star – with the material given. 

Alas, one may not be heading in to see 3 DAYS TO KILL for his long absentee-father/daughter storyline, but rather for its litany of over-the-top action set-pieces, and Besson’s screenplay and McG’s caffeinated – but not obnoxiously so this time – direction keeps the most wickedly implausible action beats jubilantly afloat.  Whether we see Costner effortlessly mow his way through multiple European goons (pretty miraculous considering his impending death sentence) or interrogate some of them, only to be interrupted by frequent phone calls from his daughter (she sets his ringtone to Icona Pop’s “I Love It/I Don’t Care” for frequently amusing effect), you gain a steady appreciation that the makers here don’t take things too seriously.    

3 DAYS TO KILL does implode a bit during its final act and gets a bit too chaotic for its own good.  I also kind of wished that the film owned and manned up to an R-rating instead of providing us with a relatively bloodless PG-13 carnage that seems a bit too watered down considering the inane heights of incredulity this film wishes to achieve.  Yet, as far as deeply bizarre and out-of-left-field CIA potboilers/Luc Besson-quarterbacked Euro-trash thrillers go, 3 DAYS TO KILL agreeably gets its intended job the done with reasonably proficiency.   That, and it’s refreshing to see Costner back on screen, owning a part, and leading the charge.  After solid supporting performances in recent months like JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT and MAN OF STEEL, I welcome any mini-Costner renaissance on the silver screen.  He kind of proves in 3 DAYS TO KILL why he’s still a bankable movie star, as it sure takes one to bring an authentic presence to an ape-shit crazy film like this. 

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