In 3 Days to Kill, Kevin Costner has to face off against an enemy far more dastardly than any of the Euro trash thugs Liam Neeson turned into Swiss cheese in the Taken movies. No, it’s not the Russian mafia, bankers or even biological weapons. It’s the preposterous, incoherent filmmaking by cinema grotesque auteurs McG and Luc Besson. An unholy mess of tone and plausibility, McG’s movie, if it even warrants that distinction, isn’t just a titanic waste of time but a big old bag of bull. If you think I’m being vulgar, wait until you get a load of the movie. On second thought, don’t.
Costner reluctantly stars as Ethan Renner, a grizzled CIA agent forced to retire after learning he has terminal brain cancer. With less than five months to live, Ethan moves to Paris to patch things up with his estranged ex Christine (Connie Neilson) and daughter Zooey (Hailee Stienfeld), both who he hasn’t seen in a decade. He gets a quick dose of reality when Zooey flat-out rejects him. Luckily for him, Christine has a convenient out-of-town meeting to attend which gives him the opportunity to be Zooey’s babysitter for the weekend.
But Ethan’s dreams of familial bliss, which includes teaching Zooey how to dance, ride a bike (at the Sacré-Cœur no less), and avoiding rape at raves, are rudely interrupted when Vivi (Amber Heard), a CIA-funded vamp with a penchant for leather and sports cars drops into his life. Vivi’s offer is one of the “too good to refuse” variety: Kill a few bad guys with inspired nicknames like “The Wolf” and “The Albino” and she’ll poke him with a gigantic syringe that’ll cure his brain cancer. It’s a simple no-brainer of a deal but Ethan’s already made one of those “only in the movies” promises to Christine. Talk about a quagmire!
3 Days to Kill is the brainchild of French action cinema titan Besson, who both wrote and produced the film. There was a time when Besson used to be synonymous with stylish, original action movies (think Nikita, Leon, The Fifth Element) but that era seems like a long, long time ago. Today, his association with a project likely indicates it’ll be slick, loud, over-the-top and a tonally unbalanced piece of trash (think From Paris with Love, The Family, Columbiana).
The only exception was Taken, which while far from memorable, benefitted from Neeson’s committed performance and Pierre Morrel’s focused direction. It’s obvious that 3 Days to Kill comes from the same inbred gene that made that movie a smash in 2009. Along with the Besson connection, both are set in Paris, and both also feature a 50-something A-lister trying to reinvent himself as a badass action hero. The difference here is that unlike Taken, there’s never a sense as to what Besson is trying to accomplish. Is this a comedy about a CIA guy trying to work on his family issues? Is it a thriller about international terrorism? Is it both? Whatever it is, it doesn’t work.
3 Days to Kill seems to be the result of a brain fart session in which McG and Besson drunkenly threw together whatever sophomoric jokes and plot strands they could think of and slap it on the script. How else could one explain the inexplicable appearance of an illegal African family who takes up residence in Ethan’s Paris apartment; or a subplot involving a Russian gangster who Ethan tortures and befriends in equal measure; or the shots of vodka he has to down to overcome the severe side-effects of the brain cancer drug?
Just about the only thing this facepalm of a movie has going for it is Costner. By all means, this is hardly a good performance from the actor but in a movie where it’s evident that no one is trying, a little hint of it goes a long way. Ethan is a ridiculous, implausible, unlikeable character, but Costner somehow manages to make his situation relatable - whether he’s teaching Zooey how to ride a bike, wooing his ex back, or delivering lead sandwiches. The movie as a whole may be one of the worse things he’s ever done, but Costner proves that even garbage can be worth a cent when you have a genuinely likeable movie star selling it.