“3 Days to Kill”
Directed by McG
Starring Kevin Costner, Amber Heard, Richard Sammel, Tómas Lemarquis, Connie Nielsen
Action Crime, Drama
When 3 Days to Kill first rolled, I was convinced I’d mistakenly wandered into another Taken sequel. The premise is pretty much exactly the same save the kidnappings; instead, “dangerous” international spy Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) only has three months to live. Just like in Taken, the protagonist has been separated from his wife and now wants to reconnect with his teenage daughter (Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit) whom he doesn’t spend much time with. 3 Days to Kill is even conveniently set in Paris, and director McG (Charlie’s Angels, We Are Marhsall) makes no attempt to conceal that fact. And, of course, just like Neeson’s bad-ass Bryan Mills, Costner’s Ethan tortures and/or kills everyone. The comparisons never stop.
Beyond that, exposition in this film is so hurried and obscure that any sort of motive or coherent plot is hard to follow. Along with Vivi, — a “sexy” CIA agent portrayed by Amber Heard — Ethan is assigned to hunt and kill two guys codenamed “The Wolf” (Richard Sammel) and “The Albino” (Tómas Lemarquis). In exchange, the CIA gives him an “experimental drug” to cure his brain cancer, which comes in an overly ominous 20ml syringe and has some nasty side-effects. Ethan is left to juggle his job (and life) while trying to keep a hold on his family.
A steam-rolling, no-frills killer, Ethan dresses like an off-duty World War I fighter pilot: he’s outfitted with a grey wool scarf, faded blue jeans and a brown bomber jacket. He’s everything a spy shouldn’t be: grizzled, garish, gasping and God-awful looking in a suit. Sweaty and paunch-bellied, Costner always looks like he needs a nap. He’s James Yawn, the Worn Identity.
Costner’s set of skills isn’t as particular as Neeson’s were, either. In fact, he doesn’t seem to be good at much other than murdering Frenchmen and blowing shit up in plain sight without anyone noticing. To top that off, his reaction to the experimental drug’s side-effects always kicks in right when he’s about to cap the baddies, leaving him woozy and wheezing before blacking out on the floor. As such, Ethan finishes missions like a nice guy with a vasectomy.
His inability to get the job done doesn’t really matter though; it’s never quite clear what exactly his mission is even supposed to be except a way to conveniently draw the plot out long enough for Ethan to teach his daughter how to ride a bike and dance the waltz.
Why the bad guys even need to be killed in the first place is so poorly established that it’s preposterous. The Albino is presumed to be debauched due to his austere fetish for murder by eccentric decapitation — at one point he takes a female agent’s head off via descending elevator shaft — though why that makes him an enemy of the state is beyond me. Maybe his hairlessness presents an unknown challenge to the American livelihood.
As for The Wolf… Well, I have no clue what Sammel’s role even was. He only appears for the film’s first and last five to ten minutes, and by the end his character or importance is completely forgotten. The Wolf’s only crime in the entire film was ruining a nice dinner party. It’s never made clear why the CIA wants him dead. That’s never a good thing for a supposed main villain.
Most spy films these days are predictable and formulaic, and 3 Days to Kill was no exception. Apart from some original moments, the plot was stagnant, unoriginal and pretty much the concept Taken would have been if Neeson’s family had remained intact instead. At 100 minutes, McG seemed to feel like he had three days to fill. It certainly felt longer than that.
All that said, everything besides the makeshift plot and confusing narrative was actually really well executed. In addition to the beautiful mise-en-scène — McG took every opportunity to show off the Eiffel Tower — this film was surprisingly French, which is probably the reason why it wasn’t all terrible.
With almost an entirely French cast and crew, including writers Luc Besson and Adi Hasak, cinematographer Thierry Arbogast, and a score by Guillaume Roussel, 3 Days to Kill had all the familiar elements found in famous French spy series such as Le Gendarme and OSS 117 (which starred Jean Dujardin before he was a Swedish bank mogul laundering Jordan Belfort’s money or a silent film superstar). For an action film, it’s got enough not to bore. Costner kills like the plague: his body-count hits the half-century mark about 20 minutes in and rises exponentially from there.
The comedy is decidedly Français: clumsy, maladroit, and filled with foolish situational and corporeal humor. McG probably banked a little too much on over-the-top sound effects and old-man-on-a-girl’s-bike humor, but there were plenty of funny moments. Costner is more of a comical figure than he ever is badass, so he milks it.
3 Days to Fill is well-acted and McG made certain to have a resolution for every character involved. No stone was left unturned, and the film wraps up the mangled plot as cleanly as possible. Costner as a poor man’s Liam Neeson works fairly well, and the father-daughter relationship between him and Steinfeld is heart-warming at times. The Wolf and The Albino are terrible villains, but they’re at least entertaining. There’s talent in nuggets here; McG does a good job of mining it.
When it comes down to it, 3 Days to Kill exceeds expectations like a 4th grader jumping hurdles at the district track meet. Costner has come a long way since his Ta Tanka and Two Socks chasing days with the Dakota Souix, but this Dance With Wolf just didn’t make me howl.