Not too long ago Kevin Costner was one of the biggest movie stars in the world. Costner’s success wasn’t only limited to being in front of the camera. He won the Oscar for Best Director with his first film, Dances With Wolves, beating out Martin Scorsese and Goodfellas for top honors. Starting with Waterworld and reaching its apex with The Postman, Costner’s meteoric rise turned to an apocalyptic crash. Though he continued to work through the debris of his once thriving career, Costner was relegated to work in forgettable fare. Anybody out there remember Swing Vote? Didn’t think so.
Things appear to have turned around for Costner starting with his all too brief role in Man of Steel and culminating in Costner already appearing in 3 films this year – 3 Days to Kill, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, and Draft Day. As he did for Liam Neeson before, Luc Besson, with co-writer Adi Hasak, has created an action vehicle mixed with family drama for an aging star. Directed by McG of Charlie’s Angels and Terminator Salvation fame, 3 Days to Kill is a tonally unbalanced film that feeds off clichés yet skates by on Costner’s charm.
Having abandoned his family for their own safety so he can lead a life as a CIA assassin, Ethan Renner is forced into early retirement following his diagnosis with cancer. Seeking reconciliation with his wife and daughter, Christine (Connie Nielsen) and Zooey (Hailee Steinfeld), he travels to Paris, where they’re currently living. Shortly after reuniting with his estranged family, Ethan is confronted by a sexy CIA liaison, Vivi (Amber Heard). In exchange for his services in taking care of two terrorists, the Wolf (Richard Sammel) and the Albino (Tómas Lemarquis), she will provide him with an experimental drug that will keep him alive. Christine is then sent on a business trip to London and leaves Ethan to watch Zooey for the next 3 days. During that time Ethan must reconcile with his daughter, perform his duties as a CIA operative, and deal with the heavy side effects of his experimental medication.
Much like its protagonist, 3 Days to Kill tries to balance the absentee father drama with AARP approved action without consistently pulling off either particularly well. There’s very little overlap in the personal drama and action, thus negating one of the more interesting aspects of the premise. When it’s an action film, the film has its share of forward momentum. When it moves towards the family drama, it becomes a drag. These family scenes contain some drawn out and unnecessary father/daughter moments, like Ethan teaching Zooey how to ride a bike, or Ethan saving Zooey from being gang raped in a bathroom. Both the action and drama elements are flavored with clichéd dialogue. There are numerous lines of dialogue in which the next line can be recited a beat before they’re spoken on-screen.
Though the film moves best when its focused on the spy-action elements, Costner himself shines in the quieter family moments. As a CIA super-spy, Costner plays Ethan with raspy growl that fades in and out. As a returning absentee father, Costner is more naturalistic, ditching the growl and tough guy veneer for the vulnerability that played so well in The Untouchables and JFK. Hailee Steinfeld shows that her solid debut in the Coen Brothers’ True Grit wasn’t a fluke. Though she’s only playing a tween/teenager caricature, she gives it her best and I hope to see her in high quality work again. Amber Heard continues to prove that she is really nothing more than a pretty face. As the CIA liaison that delivers Ethan his next mission, she plays as if she’s still in the ultra-campy Machete Kills.
There are certain touches in the film that a bewildering. The aforementioned attempted gang rape being one of them. Another one is the family of African immigrants squatting in Ethan’s apartment. Ethan takes people to the apartment for brutal interrogations and the family thinks nothing of it. They go about their business with ‘60s and ‘70s American soul music playing in every scene they’re present. If there is one element that is poorly utilized and not fully thought out, it would be the side effects of the experimental drug. When the dizzying hallucinations take hold of Ethan, he is informed by Vivi that drinking vodka will help alleviate the symptoms. Instead of making Ethan be drunk in order to keep his head straight and thus affect his attempts at reconciliation, the film just makes the side effect repeatedly appear at inopportune moments. By the 3rd time the side effects take hold, you seriously have to wonder why Ethan doesn’t carry a little pint-sized bottle of vodka on him at all times.
The film’s action lacks tension or any kind of stakes, but is competently presented. Glimpses of chaos cinema – shaky cam, incomprehensible editing – appear, but, for the most part, the action is easy to follow visually. Even with its promising premise, 3 Days to Kill feels like a disappointment because it never consistently hits its marks. If you go in with tempered expectations, 3 Days to Kill offers enough entertainment that it offers a passable 2 hours to kill.
Special features on the Blu-Ray include an extended cut with 6 extra minutes, as well as 3 featurettes about the making of the film, director McG and his style, and the story of a real life spy.