Despite McG’s ability to get films made — Charlies Angels, Terminator Salvation — he doesn’t have the greatest relationship with critics, but it seems he can pull in the revenue. 3 Days to Kill isn’t likely to alter the perception that he’s created as a hackneyed action director, even if it may be the best of his career. But “best” is a relative term and here it doesn’t translate to actually being good. If anything, the minute pleasures of the movie can be attributed to co-writer Luc Besson (The Professional, The Fifth Element) and star Kevin Costner, who seems to be making a calculated resurgence on the silver screen. Although Besson’s script has all the elements of a wry, B-movie, McG isn’t able to do anything worthwhile with it.
Costner stars as Ethan Renner, an aging CIA agent who finds out he’s dying of brain and lung cancer. Returning to Paris in the hopes of reconnecting with his estranged wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) and his teenage daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld) his plans are derailed when femme fatale agent Vivi (Amber Heard) gives him one last assignment in return for a large payday and access to an experimental drug that will prolong his life. It’s a silly and fairly cliched set up — retiring agent has to juggle work and family — but the work provides the eye-popping explosions and the family drama provides the emotional explosions, as well as some humor.
In the right hands, it could’ve worked. Costner, at least, appears to be in on the joke. When he wanders back to Paris, he finds an extended immigrant family squatting in his apartment and because of strict French laws, can’t do much about it with the few months he has left. Of course it works its way into his character’s development, but every time he returns home with a bad guy to torture and a young boy yells “Ethan” in a French accent, hand raised for a high five, it’s a bit of humor that works well. Costner gruffs his way through as Ethan — remember, lung cancer — and lays on the muted depression of a dying man but he also knows when to lighten up and go with the flow, not taking himself too seriously. He also plays off well with Steinfeld as an overly hormonal teenager more concerned with how she’s viewed by her friends than even being upset about her father’s prolonged absence.
Unfortunately McG just isn’t a director who possesses the finesse to meld genres and use the cliches to his advantage. Instead, it comes off as hokey and trite, unable to pull all of its threads together into a whole. Heard’s character is also a sore spot as the story opens with her being given her targets directly from the CIA Director — who the bad guys are doesn’t really matter and is barely explained — only to pass it off to Ethan because a dying man has nothing to lose, except for the fact that she’s promised to cure him. It’s confusing and makes her character seem pretty terrible at her job as she just delegates her own job out and Vivi seems only to exist for Heard to act provocatively without actually doing anything.
If only McG had a better handle on his material, it could’ve turned into a fun little action flick that doesn’t take itself too seriously. But it does, and that’s the problem. Instead of owning its ridiculousness, it just plays out as ridiculous.
Rating: 2 out of 5