Dying of brain cancer, a dangerous international spy is determined to give up his high stakes life to finally build a closer relationship with his estranged wife and daughter, whom he’s previously kept at arm’s length to keep out of danger; but first, he must complete one last mission – even if it means juggling the two toughest assignments yet: hunt down the world’s most ruthless terrorist and look after his teenage daughter for the first time in ten years while his wife is out of town.
Review 3 Days to Kill
Review 3 Days to Kill
Luc Besson’s fascination with aging hitmen continues apace, though perhaps with the law of diminishing returns fully in effect, with 3 Days to Kill. Besson, who is responsible in some creative capacity for a number of films featuring career assassins and other operatives like Léon: The Professional, Taken / Taken 2 and 22 Bullets, serves as one the producers, co-writer and story provider for 3 Days to Kill, and there’s a certain feeling of having come once too often to this particular well that undercuts the film. When the chief bad guy is named The Wolf and his main acolyte is named The Albino, it’s probably already obvious we’re more or less in comic book territory, but Besson and director McG ( Charlie’s Angels) don’t seem to know exactly what kind of film they want to make.
Is this some kind of wry comedy where former CIA agent Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) has to navigate emotional territory that’s just as treacherous with his estranged teenage daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld) as with anything to do with the Agency? Or is this a flat out action film in the traditionally hyperbolic Besson tradition, with lots of gunfire and action set pieces? This is ironically the same tonal imbalance which befuddled much of Besson’s The Family, perhaps yet another reason that 3 Days to Kill seems at least as tired and haggard as Ethan Renner himself.
Renner may be slightly past his prime, but the opening moments of 3 Days to Kill make it completely clear that he’s still on his killing game, albeit with a slight cough. Renner has been tasked with taking out The Albino (Tómas Lemarquis), who is helping The Wolf (Richard Sammel) to procure a dirty bomb. Unbeknownst to Renner, another CIA assassin named Vivi Delay (Amber Heard) has been given the job of taking out The Wolf, though she’s hobbled by the fact that no one knows what he looks like. While Renner is able to appropriate the bomb, the rest of the mission goes seriously haywire, with both The Albino and The Wolf escaping, and a trail of dead bodies, both heroes and villains, left in the wake of the melée.
It’s at this point that 3 Days to Kill takes the first of at least a couple of maudlin and poorly executed turns, when Renner discovers that his little cough is not in fact a cold, but terminal cancer, In a cavalier scene that completely disrupts any already evanescent feeling of reality, the CIA shows up to Renner’s hospital bed and summarily fires him. It’s a ridiculous, pointless scene that is overly artificial and does nothing to develop the story, especially since Besson backtracks within literally minutes to have Renner swept up by Vivi in a new plot to capture The Wolf and The Albino. Vivi offers Renner an experimental new cancer fighting drug which, in another one of 3 Days to Kill’s patently annoying plot points, acts as a hallucinogen if Renner’s heart rate gets too high.
In the meantime, Renner has journeyed to Paris to reunite with his estranged wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) and daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld), whom he hasn’t seen for years. In a screenplay already stuffed to the gills with odd little sidebars, it turns out that Renner’s Paris flat has been occupied by a bunch of Malian squatters and, according to the film’s thesis anyway, Renner is not legally allowed to evict them until better weather comes along. There are a number of attempts to weave this particular angle into the overall storyline, but it remains as a largely loose thread that is never properly integrated and just seems like a kind of weird afterthought.
In a film this overly contrived, it probably shouldn’t come as any huge surprise that the simultaneously unfolding stories of Renner’s home life and professional life finally intersect in the film’s final act, but here, too, the film doesn’t serve either aspect particularly well. Besson and McG stoop to kind of low humor throughout the film as Renner becomes exasperated with Zoey’s antics, but here the action ethos which has helped to define large swaths of Besson’s career takes over, and Renner becomes the protective husband and father, albeit one prone to the psychedelic effects of whatever drug Vivi has provided him with. Vivi shows up as a sort of CIA Deus ex machina, in a surprisingly uninvolving climax that is too preordained to ever create much excitement. Even the film’s supposedly bittersweet coda doesn’t connect very strongly on an emotional level, since the audience has never been totally sure how they’re supposed to react to Ethan Renner as either a family man or a hitman.
There’s a lot of cutesy stuff going on in 3 Days to Kill, including a running gag about a purple bicycle Renner has purchased for Zoey, and the fact that a slew of French folks keep calling Renner a cowboy (a none too subtle reference to Costner’s western persona), and had the entire film had a lighter, more comedic, touch, it probably would have worked better. Costner is quite appealing in this grizzled, lived in role, but Steinfeld is left to do little more than be petulant. Heard’s chief achievements here are wearing a serious of increasingly odd Alias-esque wigs and smoking cigarettes Cruella de Vil style. Trying to walk a middle ground between family dysfunction and nuclear armed terrorists is probably not a good idea to begin with, and 3 Days to Kill ends up, to borrow an image from the film, stabbing itself in the foot.