Before he made the obnoxiously colorful Charlie's Angels movies, McG cut his teeth making obnoxiously colorful music videos for the MTV market. For 3 Days to Kill, his first foray outside of the Hollywood studio system, the filmmaker teams up with Luc Besson, who both produced and co-wrote the screenplay.
In the vein of other American-style actioners pumped out by Besson's EuropaCorp production house, most notably Taken, the film casts an aging matinee idol in a plot that's almost comically generic. A tired-looking Kevin Costner plays Ethan, a grizzled CIA "lifer" diagnosed with brain cancer and given months to live. For his few remaining days on the planet, Ethan returns to the City of Lights, where he intends to patch up his relationship with his wife, Christine (Connie Nielsen), and daughter, Zooey (Hailee Steinfeld). Obligatorily, a sexy CIA handler, the improbably named Vivi Delay (Amber Heard), pulls Ethan back into One Last Job, promising him a potentially lifesaving experimental drug for his help, just as he's tasked with three days of babysitting the daughter he barely knows.
As a producer, Besson only answers to himself, and as a prolific screenwriter, he inflects most of his work with an obsession over father-daughter relationships. 3 Days to Kill's most emotionally resonant scene is a simple montage of Ethan teaching Zooey how to ride a two-wheeler. McG elegantly crunches a life's worth of regret and sadness into a few minutes, a moment that allows Zooey to cross-examine her father on why he wasn't there for her growing up. And a scene wherein Ethan saves her from an attempted rape also effectively explores the real-world stresses of parenthood and teenage naïveté, though these emotional beats seem stranded in a script that leans too heavily on jokes that stress their generation gap.
By the end, McG may strip down his approach and serve up a variety of slick, well-paced shoot-outs and car chases, but his technical skill can't quite overcome the story's lazy sense of humor and incomprehensible account of international espionage, a bunch of funny business about an albino accountant and an arms deal that leaves one with the impression that the script went into production after its first draft.
Opening February 21 in the US, 3 Days To Kill seems destined to be only a modest theatrical performer. Costner’s moderate star power will be put to the test in a marketplace that already has RoboCop and will soon also include action fare like Pompeii and Non-Stop. With negative reviews helping to squash word of mouth, 3 Days To Kill should be quickly winding its way to DVD and cable, where audiences may be less choosy with their entertainment dollars.
Costner plays Ethan Renner, a CIA operative whose dangerous, secretive, world-traveling work has meant that he’s been largely absent from the lives of his estranged wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) and sullen teen daughter Zooey (Hailee Steinfeld). But after being diagnosed with terminal cancer and only given a few months to live, he decides to go to Paris to reunite with his family before his death. That’s when he meets Vivi (Amber Heard), a mysterious American operative who wants him to take out two nefarious terrorists known simply as The Albino and The Wolf. In exchange for helping her, Ethan will be given an experimental serum that could prolong his life.
Working from a script co-written by Besson (who devised the original story), McG balances Ethan’s hunt for the terrorists with domestic concerns: This superspy has to babysit his daughter while Christine is out of town for a few days. 3 Days To Kill hopes to produce comedic sparks from the juxtaposition of Ethan’s two worlds, interrogating baddies and engaging in high-octane car chases when he’s not trying to reconnect with Zooey and deal with her adolescent concerns about dating.That’s a clever concept, but as with McG’s last film, the disastrous action-comedy This Means War, he shows little aptitude for integrating laughs and suspense. Whereas McG’s Charlie’s Angels films had their appeal because of his leads’ goofball performances, his latest radiates almost no charm. Instead, smugness reigns, as if the filmmakers can’t stop congratulating themselves for a tonal audacity that’s neither well executed nor that bold. (When 3 Days To Kill goes for laughs, they tend to be so broad and ridiculous that one can’t resist the occasional chuckle at the utter screwball lunacy of the whole endeavour.)
At the peak of his popularity in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, Kevin Costner made simple decency seem enormously appealing. In recent years, though, he’s added some shading to that image, playing shifty individuals in 3000 Miles To Graceland and Mr. Brooks. Though ostensibly the hero of 3 Days To Kill, Ethan is a cranky, unsentimental veteran spy, and Costner does what he can to make the character’s callous attitude toward the people he roughs up funny but also hip. But the same criticism that dogged other EuropaCorp movies such as The Family and Lockout applies to 3 Days To Kill: The film’s “shocking” antisocial demeanour can’t distract from the derivative story and cardboard characters.3 Days To Kill’s tedious B-movie trashiness is best encapsulated in Heard’s winking portrayal of Vivi, a knowing homage to a thousand femme fatales before her but without a lick of wit. Heard can be enormously sultry and tart onscreen, but in 3 Days To Kill she mostly smokes cigarettes and wears absurdly tight outfits, cooing inane sexual innuendo at Ethan in between doling out exposition to further the plot. The character is an idea of movie coolness that hasn’t been given any development.
Likewise, Steinfeld has to play a typical angst-filled teen, and she doesn’t have the presence to bring anything to an underwritten role. This is unfortunate since she and Costner do eventually establish a warm father-daughter rapport that’s the only heart in this otherwise mechanical movie.(Download 3 Days to Kill) For all its thriller tendencies, 3 Days To Kill actually takes Ethan’s plight seriously, trying to wring some pathos from his regrets about the choices he’s made that have driven a wedge between himself and his family. But whether it’s the stabs at emotional resonance or the action set pieces, 3 Days To Kill simply feels uninspired, its every twist and idea piled on in the hopes that manic exuberance will be confused for coherence.