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3 DAYS TO KILL Movie Review

Don’t call it a comeback. He’s been here for years (since the ‘80s, actually). The non-comeback in question belongs to Kevin Costner, an actor and sometime director (and Oscar winner) whose career in either capacity seemed headed into involuntary retirement at the ticket-purchasing hands of general moviegoers and studio executives unwilling to give an actor pushing 60 leading or even supporting roles in their bigger-budgeted films. The resurrection of Costner’s moribund career began in earnest with the Emmy Award-winning Hatfields & McCoys for cable television, followed by a scene-stealing turn as Jonathan Kent (a.k.a., Superman’s adopted father) in last year’s Man Of Steel. In quick order, Costner signed on for a larger supporting role in another attempt at a franchise reboot, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, a sports-themed comedy-drama, Draft Day (out in April), and sandwiched in between those two films, a proper leading role as an aging, dying spy forced into one last mission in the Luc Besson-produced, McG-directed, Paris-set 3 Days to Kill.

When we first meet Costner’s character, CIA super-agent Ethan Renner – a nod to Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible character, Ethan Hunt – he’s in Belgrade (Serbia), painfully coughing his way through one last mission (except it’s not, of course). Like Mission: Impossible, Renner’s mission in Belgrade goes sideways, leaving several CIA agents dead or seriously injured (hard to tell since we never see them again), and his chief quarry, the Wolf (Richard Sammel), a black market arms dealer, and the Wolf’s second-in-command, the Albino (Tómas Lemarquis), in the wind. During his pursuit of the Albino (points off to Besson and McG for stereotypical villainy), Renner loses consciousness, awakening days or weeks later in a CIA-run facility to discover he’s dying from cancer, with only months to live. It’s more than enough time, however, for Renner to officially retire from the CIA and head to Paris where he hopes to reconcile with his ex-wife, Christine (Connie Nielsen), and his teenage daughter, Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld).

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Not surprisingly, the best laid plans of ex-CIA super-agents go almost immediately awry. While Christine seems receptive to his return after a five-year absence, Zoey is nothing if not a surly, unfriendly teen, refusing to call Renner “Dad,” and otherwise making Renner’s life difficult. It gets even worse when another CIA super-agent, the lithe, mostly blonde, Vivi Delay (Amber Heard), a noir-inspired femme fatale type prone to fetish wear, amoral pronouncements, and thinly veiled come-ons, enters Renner’s life while he’s shopping for fresh vegetables at an outdoor market. Delay offers Renner a deal he can’t refuse: In exchange for tracking down and killing the Wolf, the Albino, and their criminal associates, she’ll give Renner a new experimental, life-extending cancer drug. With Renner back on the job and Christine out of town on a business trip for several days, he’s left in charge of Zoey, a decision she resents and he quickly regrets.

Co-written by Adi Hasak, Besson’s script (Besson also receives story credit) haphazardly segues between generic spy-thriller conventions, with Renner tracking down the Wolf through his associates, essentially working his way up the food chain, and domestic drama material, with Renner trying (and failing) to find common ground and reconciling with Zoey. A subplot involving an African immigrant family squatting in Renner’s Paris apartment (he can’t kick them out for legal reasons) provides 3 Days to Kill with another time-wasting plot turn, functioning both as comedy relief (weakly, it should be added) and a way to gradually humanize Renner (because reconnecting with his ex-wife and daughter isn’t enough). Another running subplot involves Renner kidnapping one of the Wolf’s associates, a bearded, hirsute limo driver, Mitat Yilmaz (Marc Andréoni), first to extract information about the Wolf and his associates’ locations, and later to obtain parenting advice (Mitat has two teen daughters of his own).

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The constant, clumsy careening between the spy-thriller genre – often with brutal beatings and violent murders along the way – and low-stakes domestic drama rarely, if ever, works. McG never seems to get a handle on the right tone for the material – a problem he also failed to overcome in the similarly themed This Means War several years ago – eventually giving up altogether and slapping together a few generic set pieces, including the obligatory car chase through the streets of Paris in the middle of a day. He’s not helped, of course, by another underwritten, derivative script from the Besson mill. At this point in his career, Besson seems completely content with churning out mediocre script after sub-par script, add a middle-aged English-language actor on the downside of his career, pass them off to a protégé (3 Days to Kill excepted), and take advantage of France’s presumably generous tax incentives to make a modestly budgeted action film where everyone except the audience is a winner (financially speaking, of course).

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The Author

Mel Valentin

Mel Valentin

Mel Valentin hails from the great state of New Jersey. After attending NYU undergrad (politics and economics major, religious studies minor) and grad school (law), he decided a transcontinental move to California, specifically San Francisco, was in order. Since Mel began writing nine years ago, he's written more than 1,600 film-related reviews and articles. He's a member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Online Film Critics Society.