It’s not often – on the big screen, anyway – that director McG traffics in human emotion. His films are mostly about the slam and the bang, so his attachment to a movie like “3 Days to Kill” is a bit surprising at first. This is not to say that the movie doesn’t have some slam-bang moments (it does), but that it operates at a different speed than McG’s other work. The father-daughter relationship comes first, though murder isn’t far behind. The story, by Luc Besson (“The Professional”), bites off more than it can chew, and it requires “Taken” levels of disbelief to excuse carnage that our government would surely have to answer for on a public stage, but the acting performances elevate the material from ‘predictable’ to ‘predictable but fun.’
Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) is a seasoned field agent for the CIA. During an operation where he and his team are assigned to dispose of an arms dealer known as The Albino (Tómas Lemarquis), Ethan passes out after chasing down their target, wakes up in a hospital and is told he is gravely ill and has three months to live. Ethan plans on making the most of his time by reconciling with his estranged wife Tina (Connie Nielsen) and their daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld). No sooner does he promise Tina that he’s finished with the CIA than he receives a visit from fellow CIA operative Vivi Delay (Amber Heard), who was tasked with taking down the Albino’s financier The Wolf (Richard Sammel) at the same time that Ethan was supposed to take out the Albino. Vivi has access to an experimental drug that may keep Ethan alive, and she will share it with him if he agrees to help her finish the job, as Ethan is the only one who knows what the Wolf looks like. Ethan reluctantly accepts, and it is not long before the unpredictable nature of being a hired killer makes life complicated for a man who already has a reputation with his angry teenaged daughter of never being there for her. Oh, and a family of squatters has taken over his Paris apartment while he was away, and it is against the law if he kicks them out.
This is a busy movie for sure, and while it’s clear what message Besson was trying to send (family togetherness triumphs over all things), and the message is a good one, his multi-pronged attack on the family front serves as more of a distraction than a supportive ‘B’ story. At the same time, the squatter family’s youngest son, and his fascination with Ethan, is a clear callback to Natalie Portman’s character in “The Professional,” which adds a nice level of meta to the proceedings. Another piece of the plot is of the rom-com variety (Mommy has to leave town on business for a few days, so newly retired/secretly not retired contract killer Daddy is responsible for his rebellious daughter), but it leads to some sweet moments, at least when it’s not forcing Costner to maim innocent people. “3 Days to Kill” is the story of a conflicted man, and that conflict manifests itself in more ways than one, at times to its detriment.
Bonus points, then, to the casting agent for getting the right actors in the right parts, because Costner, Steinfeld and even Heard (she speaks early in the movie about having to work with small budgets, yet dresses like a world-class call girl/dominatrix from start to finish) make this movie a hell of a lot more watchable than it otherwise would be. There is definitely a bit of Crash Davis in Costner’s performance (he even cracks a joke about how to properly punch someone that will have “Bull Durham” fans laughing), and Steinfeld is just the right kind of difficult; she has issues, but she hasn’t gone off the rails. Nielsen, sorry, is window dressing, but Marc Andréoni and Bruno Ricci have nice bits as men associated with the Albino that Ethan uses to his advantage.
“3 Days to Kill” is the kind of movie that uses excess to reinforce something tender. It doesn’t always make sense, but as long as you stay within the lines, as it were, and do not consider the ripple effect that the actions of these characters might have on a larger stage, the movie works…sort of.