“3 Days To Kill” Movie Review

     It’s become apparent Luc Besson’s production company, EuropaCorp, has cornered the market for relatively cheap action pictures starring seemingly over the hill actors with “a special set of skills”.  These January/February releases occupy a time of the year where they have a chance of being successful as their risk is minimal, usually facing a slew of Oscar holdovers and little else.  Besson has credits that include a resurgent Liam Neeson in both “Taken” and “Taken 2”, whose successful theatrical runs seem to be the reason for Kevin Costner’s turn as an action hero in the new film “3 Days To Kill”.  Directed by McG (“Charlie’s Angels”) and written by Besson, the film seems to struggle with it’s identity, suffering greatly from tonal consistency as it abruptly moves from a serious spy thriller to complete farce and then back again without warning.

     With villains referred to in the opening scene by names such as “The Wolf” and “The Albino”, one quickly surmises the story ahead plans to spend the majority of it’s time in the realm of an “Austin Powers” movie, rather than something that intends on being taken seriously.  Then McG stages a great scene in which veteran CIA Agent Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) skillfully takes out a group of alleged buyers of a nuclear device and then makes his way to a surveillance van, waiting for the rest of the operation to unfold.  When the Albino (Tomas Lemarquis) arrives and sniffs out the operation, a running gun battle in the vein of the centerpiece scene in “Heat” ensues as armed terrorists escort the Albino out of the building and engage the CIA who intend on stopping them.  It’s the type of sequence which lends promise for what’s to come, but “3 Days To Kill” never really gets there.

     Instead, Ethan collapses while in pursuit and is later told he has 3 months live after being diagnosed with brain cancer.  This launches the proceedings into the subplot that ultimately dooms the film as Ethan leaves the CIA and predictably seeks out his estranged wife, Christine (Connie Nielsen), and his daughter, Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld).  After an Oscar nominated turn as Mattie Ross in the Coen’s 2010 remake of “True Grit”, I’ve been surprised Steinfeld has had a seemingly tough time finding quality roles to build upon that performance and this film doesn’t end that trend.  To be clear, she’s fine as Ethan’s daughter, but her character is nothing more than a cliche with the typical teen angst coupled with the obligatory phase in which she acts like she wants nothing to do with him.  She demonstrates this at first by referring to Ethan by his name rather than “dad” and continually turns down each and every attempt he makes at reconnecting.  Steinfeld’s lines follow the usual tropes for this type of situation and never allow her to have that breakout scene in which the audience will start to really believe in her character.

     Where the story really takes a plunge into lunacy is when Amber Heard’s character, Vivi Delay, shows up and offers Ethan an experimental drug which could possibly cure his brain cancer in exchange for his services in tracking down the Albino and ultimately killing the Wolf.  Vivi is a comic book character who might feel right at home in a film like “Sin City”, but is completely out of place and over the top in a film such as this.  She’s a dangerous international spy and assassin who gets around in slinky cocktail dresses and stiletto heels, delivering cheesy lines sometimes meant to be serious and sometimes not.  The anecdote she gives Ethan is in a convenient do it yourself oversized syringe, complete with an attractive oversized leather case.  Of course, the concoction has side effects Ethan has to deal with, but he is ultimately given the assignment because it is believed he has actually seen the Wolf. 

     McG stages the ensuing action sequences mostly in techno lit night clubs and rave parties.  When Ethan finally comes face to face with his adversary, it makes for an uncomfortable and wholly unbelievable moment that is tough to swallow.  You want to say that characters of this magnitude just wouldn’t do things that way and yet in “3 Days To Kill” they do.  I suppose it’s a hoot to realize the Wolf is played by German actor Richard Sammel, whom you likely will recognize as the Nazi Sergeant who had his face bashed in with a baseball bat at the hands of the Jew Bear in “Inglorious Basterds”.  That thought is really the extent of the emotion I felt toward his “Wolf” character as the script doesn’t really ever explain why he is so dangerous in the first place, thus leaving the film void of the menacing villain it needs to succeed.  He’s some kind of arms dealer, I get it, but isn’t there more to him?  Perhaps a little more time spent on this matter, rather than the lame baseless family drama we are force fed, would’ve made the difference between a watchable action film and the poor man’s spy thriller it really is.  GRADE: D