Mark Reviews Movies

3 Days to Kill


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: McG

Cast: Kevin Costner, Hailee Steinfeld, Amber Heard, Connie Nielsen, Tómas Lemarquis, Richard Sammel, Marc Andréoni

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language)

Running Time: 1:53

Release Date: 2/21/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | February 21, 2014

Whatever movie in which Kevin Costner believes he's acting in 3 Days to Kill might not be the "right" one, but it is one that is far more believable and interesting than what's surrounding him on screen. There are at least three very different movies with incredibly different tones at play here. Individually, they each may have worked, but together, in this wildly incongruous form, the combination is unruly and ungainly.

The first component is exhibited by Costner's performance. He plays one of the CIA's most effective killers—a man whose introduction comes not through action or words but through the silent reveal of a hotel room filled with dead bodies riddled with bullet wounds after showing him unscrewing a silencer from his pistol. The character's name is Ethan Renner, and the movie opens with him the middle of an operation to eliminate a pair of reptilian terrorists who are planning to sell a dirty bomb to the highest bidder.

At the conclusion of the assignment, we learn that he has less than half a year to live, due to brain cancer that has spread to his lungs (Remember: It's a requisite in movies that a dying character must occasionally cough so that the audience can have a steady reminder of the character's imminent mortality). Costner plays it straight, with every beat of the character possessing just the right amount of desperate sadness kept at bay by his gruff and tough exterior. It's a fine performance, but it's even more vital given that the movie itself practically ignores the severity of Ethan's terminal illness until it becomes necessary for him to have a fainting spell at inopportune moments in artificial attempts to raise the stakes.

During the course of that opening mission, we're introduced to the movie's second element, which consists of sudden outbursts of generic action sequences, whether or not there is any legitimate or logical rationale for them to occur. We expect this element, of course, given Ethan's profession, but there's a startling level of incompetence to these sequences. It's not only how superficially implanted into the material they are but also how there's an absence of basic coherence. Director McG doesn't even bother with maintaining continuity, with actors dramatically shifting positions from one shot to the next in order for the next stunt to take place, and that inattention even extends to the non-action scenes. The movie features such liberal use of ADR to fill in gaps of dialogue that one wonders if there was even a completed script available on set.

That leads to the final clashing piece in Adi Hasak and Luc Besson's screenplay, which firmly establishes a distinct dilemma and a tone that mostly complements it in the prologue only to drastically change gears as soon as the plot begins. Upon learning of his fatal condition, Ethan returns to Paris to spend his remaining time with his wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) and daughter Zooey (Hailee Steinfeld), neither of whom he has seen in years. It's with no small amount of confusion, then, that Hasak and Besson make Ethan's first contact with a family be one consisting of complete strangers—an extended family of squatters who have taken over his apartment while he's been away for work.

The situation is played broadly for questionable humor, from the fact that the squatters are kindly stubborn immigrants from Mali to Ethan threatening the patriarch with a gun. The movie's sense of humor is childish and sometimes cruel. Ethan routinely pulls his gun to intimidate people, shoots a bouncer in the foot to gain access to a club to which his daughter has snuck away, and tortures a man for information while trying to earn sympathy for his problematic relationship with his rebellious daughter, which turns sappy (e.g., carrying her out of the club, taking her to an amusement park, and teaching her to ride a bike to the applause of onlookers).

Beyond the content of the jokes, their very existence and prevalence here is perplexing. It's a complete reversal of the movie's initial premise, made possible by an experimental (read: magical) drug that nullifies Ethan's fate. It comes by way of Vivi (Amber Heard), a top-shelf CIA femme fatale who wants Ethan to complete the mission from the prologue in exchange for the drug and a small fortune.

None of this jells into a convincing whole, and the one promising element here—the lethal problem Ethan faces—is practically dismissed almost as quickly as it's introduced. 3 Days to Kill is simply indecisive of its purpose, and the result is tonal cacophony.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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