3 Days to Kill Action

Killing Time with a Film Review: 3 Days to Kill

February 21, 2014Ben MK

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Costner dances with the Wolf

By Ben Mk

If there are any doubts as to whether Luc Besson has left his mark on the landscape of action cinema, you need look no further than La Femme Nikita, The Professional and The Fifth Element. These are but a few of the films that have helped solidify Besson's legacy as an action filmmaker. More recently, he's helped transform Liam Neeson into an action star, via Neeson's role as an ex-CIA agent in Taken. And now he and director Joseph McGinty Nichol (better known as McG) are teaming up to try and take Kevin Costner down that same path, as a semi-retired CIA agent in 3 Days to Kill.

A quick glance at Besson's body of work reveals a common thread that runs through the majority of his films: the reluctant hero. In his 1994 film, The Professional, that hero was Léon, a French hitman living in New York, who must protect a young girl from a dangerous, corrupt cop. In 3 Days to Kill, Besson flips things around with the story of an American CIA agent residing in Paris, who must juggle being a father to his teenage daughter and hunting down a dangerous terrorist.

That agent is Ethan Renner (Costner), the ultimate company man — the kind who forgoes seeing his wife, Christine (Connie Nielsen), and teenage daughter, Zooey (Hailee Steinfeld), for five years, because he's off trotting around the globe, taking on mission after mission for the CIA. After his latest assignment — to recover a dirty bomb from the hands of a dangerous terrorist known only as "the Wolf" — goes awry, he learns that he has terminal brain cancer. The news prompts him to retire and fly back to Paris, in an attempt to use what little time he has left to make amends with his family. After barely beginning to reconnect with his wife (who makes him promise that he's through killing for the agency, before permitting him see their daughter again), he's contacted by ultra-clandestine CIA operative Vivi Delay (Amber Heard), who presents him with a game-changing offer. In exchange for his "cleaning" skills, to help her track and kill the Wolf, she'll provide him with access to an experimental drug that has the potential to prolong his life. With little to lose and everything to gain, Ethan agrees to the terms of the deal. But as his fatherly and patriotic duties begin to collide, he soon discovers that he may be in over his head — only in ways that he could never have anticipated.

The script by Luc Besson and Adi Hasak (who also had a hand in penning From Paris with Love) taps into some of the hallmarks of Besson's filmography, delivering on some aspects better than others. As one might expect, some of Besson's recurring character archetypes are present and accounted for — namely the femme fatale (in the form of Vivi, the no-nonsense agent with a penchant for guns, fast cars and slinky dresses) and the Eurocentric baddies — but they're barely more than devices for advancing the plot. The two main villains, in particular — with the vaguely menacing codenames, "the Wolf" and "the Albino" — are all bluster and no bite, as the film never presents any convincing justification for why they should be considered so fearsome.

However, where the script most notably falls short is in making good on the promise of the action alluded to in its title. Instead, Besson and Hasak supplant much of that action in favor of Ethan's journey to redeem himself in the eyes of his family, by trying to be a more attentive father. In one scene, Zooey even provides an alternate viewpoint of the film's title, when she makes a remark about finding something to do to pass the time, saying, "We have three days to kill." And it would seem that the filmmakers agree with that interpretation. Consequently, action scenes end up feeling stilted and like something of an afterthought. It's especially noticeable in the film's awkward climax, which not only feels truncated but also shoehorned in to suit the constraints of the storyline.

Where the film does succeed, however, is in capturing the lighter tone of Besson's specific brand of popcorn entertainment. In this respect, 3 Days to Kill is less like Taken and more like The Transporter. Even though the story has the potential to take audiences to some very dark places, Costner plays Ethan with just the slightest hint of a sly wink and a nudge, affording many opportunities to explore the humor in the script. The film also includes a running joke that sees Ethan trying to pry parenting advice from suspects (when he should be interrogating them for information on the Wolf); and the interplay between Ethan and the other characters during these scenes ends up being the most entertaining part of the film.

The Bottom Line

3 Days to Kill doesn't take itself too seriously, nor should it; because with the lack of dimensionality plaguing some of its characters, it can't afford to. But while it has humor and sentimentality, it's missing the truly memorable action set pieces that ought to be the highlight of the film. Even though this makes it feel like a lesson in misguided expectations at times, it's hard not to root for Costner's character, thanks mainly to his charisma. Just don't expect this film to launch a major reinvention for him as an action hero. [★★½]

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