After shepherding Liam Neeson’s late-career rebirth as an action star with Taken, Euro B-movie writer-producer extraordinaire Luc Besson tries the same approach with Kevin Costner in 3 Days to Kill, and it’s hard to immediately think of an actor more appropriate for the treatment.
Costner’s ageing action-man role here is that of a veteran CIA agent called Ethan Renner. He’s introduced in the midst of an abortive operation to capture a notorious arms dealer called ‘The Wolf’ and his henchman ‘The Albino’. Despite his obvious field mission skills, he’s brought down by a crippling cough. He awakens in hospital being told he has terminal cancer and a few months to live. He intends to spend the time reconnecting with his estranged wife (Connie Nielsen) and teenage daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld) in Paris, but is then approached with an important new mission from a sultry and rather unconventionally attired agent (Amber Heard) in exchange for an experimental treatment.
Given the reasonably effective opening scenes, I had hoped that at this point the film’s title would reveal itself to be literal, and the serum would give Costner three days to track down and kill all the bad guys at breakneck speed. Unfortunately, it’s actually a line of dialogue spoken by his stroppy daughter referring to the time they will be spending together now his ex-wife’s out of town and he’s playing babysitter.
3 Days to Kill often feels a bit like two movies happening simultaneously, on the one hand there’s the spy/action movie about the veteran agent undertaking one last mission, and then there’s also the absent father bonding with his daughter domestic drama. Of these the latter is considerably weaker. Besson and co-writer Adi Hasak throw every cliché you could think of regarding teenage daughter/father relationships. She gets upset over her appearance, and how out of touch her father is. He tries to win her over with gifts she doesn’t want. She has an older boyfriend he disapproves of and intimidates. And of course you know they’ll end up reconciling over a childhood memory.
The first flag that 3 Days to Kill might not be up to much should have been apparent when the name of the hack director still insisting on calling himself “McG”, a man responsible for such atrocities as This Means War, appears in the opening credits. He has a terrible sense of pacing, with the film often feeling like it’s going nowhere, even come its climactic sequence, and ultimately feeling way longer than its already generous two hours. He handles a few of the action beats with more competence (a brief heist involving cars and a bike being a mild standout), but the frequently tedious film could have done with some serious editing. Instinctively I’d say it should have lost the whole daughter subplot, but it would still have been a thoroughly unremarkable action movie without.
The blame for 3 Days to Kill doesn’t all lie with the director though, there’s a generous amount of poor dialogue, usually courtesy of Steinfeld’s grating Zoey. A preposterous exchange occurs when she angrily reveals she doesn’t know how to ride a bike, because, of course, her father was never around to teach her. There are also numerous dodgy attempts at comedy, only a couple of which work (I’ll admit more scored some laughs from the audience I was with though), but they tend to occur during torture scenes, the joke being their inconvenient interruption. This being a France-set film, there are also French stereotypes abound, in one fight scene, a man is hit with a bottle of red wine then thrown into a tray of croissants. I don’t think there’s any filmmaker who’s been so happy portraying his own countrymen as stereotypically as Besson.
The troubles don’t quite end there though, there’s a particularly uncomfortable scene in which Costner discovers the attempted gang-rape of his underage daughter in a nightclub toilet. He disperses the would-be rapists but then the scene proceeds as if both characters are completely unaware of the seriousness of what almost just took place.
It does narrowly avoid using one obvious twist near the end, but you’ll have long since stopped caring. The one silver lining throughout 3 Days to Kill, is Costner himself. He gives a committed and effective performance in both the action and domestic moments, never stooping to the level of the writing and direction. Please don’t give up on an action-hero reinvention just yet Kevin, but try and find some better collaborators next time.