I knew exactly what to expect with this movie after my grandpa, who has extremely predictable taste in movies and TV shows, said he thought 3 Days to Kill looked great. Old gunslinger paired with young T&A? Yeah, it’s a formula we’ve seen many times.
Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) retires from the CIA after learning he has brain cancer. Deciding to spend his last three months with his family, he heads to Paris to meet up with his estranged wife, Christine (Connie Nielsen), and teenage daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld), who wants nothing to do with him. But then, Agent Vivi Delay (Amber Heard) approaches him with a unique offer. If he helps her take down notorious nuclear arms dealer “The Wolf” (Richard Sammel) and his number two, “The Albino” (Tómas Lemarquis), then she’ll provide him with an experimental cure for his cancer. Choosing to kill over dying, Renner tries to balance his job and his family.
3 Days to Kill is less of the “man struggling to cope with his cancer, reunite with his daughter, and kill the bad guys” story that its trailer so desperately tries to convince you it is. Honestly, it’s just two hours of Kevin Costner shooting and punching random Europeans (No wonder my grandpa thinks this movie looks great).
Let’s just go for the meat right now. This movie is beyond offensive. Not only does Costner’s Ethan Renner use his “American badassery” to beat the French, Italian, and German bad guys into submission (Oh, don’t forget the Muslim guy, too), but he also has to deal with a Franco-African family squatting in his apartment. Even though some of these characters end up reminding Ethan of family values (like the Italian guy giving Ethan’s daughter a family spaghetti sauce recipe, the Muslim guy bonding with Ethan over raising teenage daughters, or the squatters naming a baby after Ethan), this movie feels like a giant stereotype that’s borderline nationalist propaganda.
Now, that’s not to say that this movie doesn’t have its good moments. In fact, all of the scenes where Ethan is trying to bond with his teenage daughter (sometimes, even when he’s in the middle of laying waste to Paris) are pretty on-target. He has to walk her through hair meltdowns, deal with school discipline, rescue her from molesting club dudes after she sneaks out, etc. These are relatable “dad moments” for sure. And it’s here where the movie should’ve placed more emphasis, rather than on the whole “shoot ’em up” plot that took itself way too seriously (I mean, for real, The Wolf and The Albino? How ridiculously uncreative for villain names).
Had 3 Days to Kill been played off as more of an action-comedy with the parenting as the main focus and the CIA stuff as the subplot, this movie would’ve jumped up a full letter grade in my book. What’s even more frustrating is that the comedy practically wrote itself. It already had a “dad moment” running gag, where Ethan could never get Zoey to take the bike he bought her (It was purple, and she didn’t like purple), so he ended up taking it everywhere to everyone else’s irritation. It already had Zoey’s interrupting phone calls to Ethan whenever he was busy killing people. But instead of embracing the hilarity, it favored formulaic bullshit that pretended to be dramatic, mysterious, and badass (Sidenote: It wasn’t).
As for the performances, [insert yawn]. Kevin Costner played the same character he plays in every movie—the disgruntled, middle-aged man with a beef to settle. (Is it just me, or are Kevin Costner, Nicholas Cage, Liam Neeson, Bruce Willis, and all of those other raspy-voiced, middle-aged, action movie actors starting to blend into the same person?) Hailee Steinfeld gets absolutely no depth as Costner’s teen daughter, which is sad given her acting ability. Um, Connie Nielsen was barely there. And then there’s Amber Heard…
Amber Heard is just about as bland as the secret agent she played in Machete Kills. In fact, I’d argue that she’s playing the exact same character in this movie—you know, the sexy “I help the old guy” girl who’s basically there for boob candy. Vivi really isn’t necessary to this movie’s plot, other than to get Ethan back to tracking down The Wolf.
But what’s funny to me about this movie is that Vivi starts out seeming like a typical CIA agent. She wears business casual clothes with her hair pulled back in a bun, and she seems like she’s a logical thinker who gets her job done. But then, out of nowhere, she’s whipping out wigs and leather outfits, driving fast cars recklessly, and speaking with a dark, sensual voice. Does this have something to do with her wanting to be the next Angelina Jolie? Ha! It’s more like really cheesy writing. The screenwriters were probably like, “You know what would make Vivi cooler? If she was mysterious and carrying a gun but lacking a personality or any set of applicable skills!”
Also, if you’re aware of McG, who directed this film (and who’s known for having budget production quality), then you’re probably not surprised to hear that there were issues with this movie beyond the plot. In particular, we’re looking at seriously botched voiceover work. Now, sometimes, microphones and booms don’t pick up the best sound, so post-production usually works in some re-recordings. But I kid you not when I say that every time Amber Heard had a scene in the car, you could tell that she’d been voiced over. Worse, it didn’t match up with her lips. This happens multiple times throughout the movie with more than just her character, too. But cool guns, man.
Overall, 3 Days to Kill is a title that parallels how I feel about this movie. If I had some time to kill, I’d be like, “Meh. This looks somewhat entertaining,” and I’d watch it half-heartedly while perusing Twitter. I think that’s because this movie doesn’t exactly introduce a new concept to us. It’s that same middle-aged protagonist works for government organization with the help of eye candy to defeat foreign bad guy while his personal life is falling apart kind of movie. But, hey! It’d make a great 11pm filler in the TNT movie lineup.
3 Days to Kill: C
For my radio review of 3 Days to Kill on “Pat & JT in the Morning,” visit this link (starts around the 23:20 mark).