3 Days to Kill pairs the subtlety-free direction of McG with a script co-written by international popcorn-cinema superstar Luc Besson, and the result is an action comedy that delivers a couple of satisfying gunfights, lands a few funny moments, and fumbles the dramatic beats.
Kevin Costner plays grizzled CIA agent Ethan Renner, who botches his latest assignment -- taking out an international criminal known as “the Albino,” who’s an associate of an even bigger criminal mastermind called “the Wolf” -- and learns he has brain cancer that has spread to his lungs. After being told that the CIA no longer requires his services and, even worse, that he has at best five months to live, Ethan travels to Paris in order to reconnect with his long-suffering wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) and estranged teenage daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld), whom he hasn’t seen since she was a little girl.
The women in his life are mad that he abandoned them for his job with the CIA, and while Ethan intends to spend his final months winning them over, a sexy agent named Vivi Delay (Amber Heard) appears and offers to give him an experimental drug that will buy him more time if he helps her hunt down the Wolf. As a result, Ethan divides his time between Zoey’s boyfriend problems, torturing people for info that could lead to his target, and fighting off the hallucinogenic side effects of the serum -- which may or may not be working.
With its focus on the relationship between a cynical assassin and a temperamental teen girl, 3 Days to Kill feels much more like a Luc Besson movie than it does a McG flick. Sure, the Charlie’s Angels auteur’s cartoonish style is here -- most obviously in the hyperkinetic gunfight that plays out before the opening credits roll -- but the film spends far more time inside Ethan’s head than you might expect.
Unfortunately, Costner, who is obviously hoping for the kind of late-career breakthrough that Liam Neeson scored when he worked with Besson in Taken, just isn’t an engaging enough dramatic actor to sell the heart-tugging scenes. In addition, the gloriously over-the-top action sequences don’t mesh well with the earnest passages about a dying man making up for old hurts he’s caused. The tonal shifts are beyond McG’s capabilities, and Costner doesn’t bring enough gravitas to make these moments ring true.
What he does still have is some decent comic timing, and 3 Days to Kill is quite funny whenever Zoey calls her dad with a personal problem while he’s in the middle of business -- say, electrocuting a limo driver who might have some crucial info. In those scenes, Costner’s earnestness adroitly plays against the grisliness of the situation, and the results -- especially a fantastic bit involving his daughter’s pressing need for a spaghetti-sauce recipe -- have a winning sitcom vibe that explores the tension a father feels balancing work with his home life.
If they had cast a more commanding actor or rewrote the script a few more times to punch up the comedy, 3 Days to Kill could have been a memorable spin on very familiar material. As it is now, McG and company have whipped up nothing more than a time-killing programmer designed to make as much money around the globe as it does in the States.
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