3 Days to Kill (2014) / Thriller-Comedy

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language
Running Time: 113 min.

Cast: Kevin Costner, Hailee Steinfeld, Amber Heard, Connie Nielsen, Tomas Lemarquis, Richard Sammel, Marc Andreoni, Bruno Ricci
Director: McG
Screenplay: Adi Hasak, Luc Besson

Review published February 21, 2014

Ethan Runner (Costner, Jack Ryan) is dying of terminal brain cancer, diagnosed with mere months left to live. His work in the CIA is officially over, as he tends to getting his affairs in order, which includes making good in Paris with his ex-wife, Christine (Nielsen, The Ice Harvest), and the teenage daughter he was never around for, Zooey (Steinfeld, Ender's Game). But, not so fast on those plans, Ethan. He's pulled out for one more job by a tenacious CIA agent named Vivi Delay (Heard, Machete Kills), who lures him in with the promise of a fat life insurance policy and an experimental drug that could prolong his life, if he is willing to risk life and limb to finish taking down a notorious international terrorist called The Wolf (Sammel, Win Win). However, he has also pledged to stay out of the spy game for good with his wife, who has just left the daughter in his care for the next three days.

3 Days to Kill is a mess. It ostensibly is a comedy that plays off of the difficulty of trying to be a parent while also working as one of the world's greatest superspies, but doesn't generate any laughs from the setup. Rather than focus on the situations to drive the humor, McG (Terminator Salvation, We Are Marshall), working from a script by Luc Besson (The Family, Taken 2), who also produces, and Adi Hasak (From Paris with Love, Shadow Conspiracy), merely throws in more and more goofy characters to distract from the fact that there really isn't enough going for it in the story department to build an effective comedy around. Besson has been making variations of the same theme for decades, with a grizzled older killer and a younger female who relies on him, while also striving to find comedic value in trying to live like a normal family amid the dangerous world of assassins.

Kevin Costner gets his first starring action nod since 2006's The Guardian, and while he's always easy to watch, his natural, lackadaisical delivery results in some very awkward conversations between himself and people who seem like they are all being pulled from vastly stylized movies, especially Vivi, who looks like she belongs in some sort of erotic thriller. Nevertheless, the rest of these eccentric characters act as if Ethan is the one dressed out of place, looking like a cowboy (uh, because he wears blue jeans?) in a world full of the fashionably ultra-chic.

The comedy is spurned by a notion that is more humorous in the mind than in its execution; Ethan is so skilled at every aspect of his occupation, but doesn't know the first thing about being a proper dad. He's so clueless that he even incorporates questions about parenting from the people he is meant to perform advanced interrogation techniques on. The Wolf's Middle Eastern driver has daughters, so Ethan grills him on how to handle his current situation, while Ethan points a gun to the head of the Wolf's Italian accountant to tell his daughter his mother's recipe for spaghetti sauce (apaprently, Zooey would rather try to remember the recipe spouted from a man in distress over a cell phone than do a simple web search, I guess). These moments are meant to be cute, but are only mildly amusing, and are further compounded by Ethan coming across as mean spirited.

Story elements meant to play for laughs also come across with less wit than overall goofiness. Zooey is lamenting having poofed-out hair a day before the big prom, and her hair is absolutely wild to the point where it must have been intentional; the following day she sports a red wig that makes no sense for a teenager to have in her possession. Ethan buys Zooey a purple bike because her favorite color was purple, but she refuses to ride it because it isn't her favorite now. The color politics is interesting, as Ethan finds his bedroom at home has been painted over in yellow by African squatters who have been inhabiting his apartment since his last mission; he gripes because he asserts that yellow is not a man's color, which begs the question as to what gender it should be, because it isn't particularly a woman's color either.

I'm uncertain as to why McG keeps getting handed action-comedies to direct when he so clearly is inept at them. Charlie's Angels, Full Throttle, and This Means War failed to deliver many laughs, and even less excitement other than for music-video style action montages. The action is fine, as well as the occasional dramatic beat (a scene in which Ethan takes Zooey's bike for a joyous spin is one of the highlights), but when it comes to mix in the laughs, the tone is all over the map. Meanwhile, Besson hasn't been delivering at all in the screenwriting department; it's been 20 years since The Professional, and it has been mostly comic book-caliber regurgitations since. Depite an abundance of vinyl records spotlighted in this film, this film never finds its groove. Instead of whimsical, it feels random, as if plot points were spit out by a computer constructing story elements out of discarded pages from someone's collection of Mad Libs.

3 Days to Kill isn't completely unwatchable, but the script is too loose-hanging to engage and McG isn't so good a director that he can make a solid castle out of the narrative's ever-shifting sand. It's not completely unamusing, but you'll likely find more laughs laughing at how ridiculous it is than in anything that jumps out as truly inspired from the written page. I'm all for senseless fun on occasion, but this one has severe issues in tone, as it seems to put too much emphasis on the senseless for its fun, rather than the other way around. Strictly for those looking for nothing more than 2 hours to kill.

Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo