Cast: Kevin Costner, Amber Heard, Hailee Steinfeld, Connie Nielsen, Richard Sammel, Eriq Ebouaney, Tomas Lemarquis, Big John
RunTime: 1 hr 56 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Coarse Language & Violence)
Released By: GV
Official Website: http://3daystokill.tumblr.com
Opening Day: 6 March 2014
Synopsis: In this heart-pounding action-thriller, Kevin Costner is a dangerous international spy who is determined to give up his high-stakes life to finally build a closer relationship with his estranged wife and daughter, whom he's previously kept at arm's length to keep out of danger. But first, he must complete one last mission—even if it means juggling the two toughest assignments yet: hunting down the world’s most ruthless terrorist and looking after his teenage daughter for the first time in ten years, while his wife is out of town.
Luc Besson certainly knows something about career reinventions; after all, he wrote and produced one of the most unlikely of them in Hollywood with the lean and mean EuropaCorp-financed ‘Taken’, which made an unlikely action star out of Irish actor Liam Neeson. There’s no secret that his latest, similarly written and produced by him, aims to do for the same for former Hollywood A-lister Kevin Costner, whose meteoric rise in the early 1990s with ‘Dances with Wolves’ and ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ never quite recovered from its swift descent in large part due to his hubris from vanity projects like ‘Waterworld’ and ‘The Postman’.
And yet, as much as we had really hoped that ‘3 Days to Kill’ would be the big-screen comeback for Costner that he much deserves, we are equally pragmatic about that prospect now that we’ve seen this McG-directed movie. Yes, we can safely say that this mishmash of action, comedy and family drama is hardly going to be the shot in the arm that will do for Costner’s career what ‘Taken’ did for Neeson - and that is despite the obvious thematic similarity in the father-daughter dynamics between the two films. That is however no fault of Costner’s, whose gruff charisma is the only reason that this tonally muddled comedy-thriller is anywhere near watchable.
To be sure, it isn’t a persona that his fans should be unfamiliar with; indeed, from as far back as ‘Bill Durham’, Costner has made a career out of playing the cynic with a heart of gold. That said, it does take some getting used to seeing Costner this grizzled and downbeat, as if the years since have indeed taken a toll on the once boyishly dashing actor. With a paunch, jowls, and thinning hair shorn down to an unflattering buzz cut, Costner disappears right into the role of the veteran CIA field operative Ethan Renner whose unflappable demeanour is replaced by newfound vulnerability when he is diagnosed with terminal cancer and given but three months to live after an operation gone bad.
That explosive opening set in Serbia is the closest one gets to the kind of over-the-top action which McG of ‘Charlie’s Angels’ and ‘Terminator Salvation’ is known for. It also establishes the de rigueur villain of the day, a Germanic arms dealer known simply as ‘The Wolf’ (Richard Sammel) and his right hand man referred to as ‘The Albino’ (Tómas Lemarquis). After blowing up an entire hotel, McG settles down - a little too much, we may add - as Costner returns to Paris to reconnect with his estranged wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) and teenage daughter Zooey (Hailee Steinfeld), which in Besson and his co-scripter Adi Hasak’s terms means lending fatherly advice over a bad hair day, visiting the amusement parks they used to go when Zooey was young and teaching Zooey how to ride a bicycle.
Deserving of special mention is how McG inserts a sly nod to one of Costner’s biggest hits of the 1990s ‘The Bodyguard’ by getting him to carry Zooey out of a nightclub as he did Whitney Houston after saving the former from nearly being raped by three guys. Not so humorous however are Besson’s attempt to inject humour while Costner is on the job, recruited as he is by a mysterious woman named Vivi (Amber Heard) who claims that she works for the director of the CIA and will give him an experimental drug that may cure his cancer if he assists her to track and kill ‘The Wolf’; indeed, a sequence where Costner and Heard banters over what a goatee or a moustache looks like falls painfully flat.
For that matter, the comedy works only because Costner gamely goes through the motion with his deadpan comic flair. A recurring plot device has Costner extracting personal advice from his hostages - a recipe for spaghetti sauce in the case of an Italian accountant (Bruno Ricci) when Zooey calls so she can cook dinner for her boyfriend, Hugh (Jonas Bloquet); and some parental advice from a Middle Eastern limo driver (Marc Andreoni) linked to ‘The Albino’ whom he tortures by waxing the latter’s bodily hair using sticky tape. All the while, Costner plays it straight and cool, which is always good for a few chuckles here and there.
If the comedy is sporadic, the action turns out even more so. Costner does some shooting now and then, but there’s nothing on the scale of the opening. Even the finale is over just a bit too soon, unfolding over the course of some gunfire exchanged at yet another nightclub that is combined with an obligatory conflict with Christine upon her discovery that he is not yet fully retired. The only mildly memorable sequence is a one-on-one skirmish between Costner and an assassin in the deli section of a grocery store, which is also the only point in the movie that Costner gets to show off a little of that physical agility which Neeson displayed amply in ‘Taken’.
But again, one senses that Besson had tried to pitch ‘3 Days to Kill’ as something quite different from that unexpected hit. Yet he has also clearly overcompensated here, trying too hard to mesh a father-daughter reconciliation with a espionage thriller complete with a dying spy and a generous load of farce. You can literally see the strain in the material, held only by Costner’s effortless self-deprecating charm. Clearly, he doesn’t want his audience to take it too seriously, and if you’re willing to look over the frays and flaws, you’ll probably still find this a mildly pleasing diversion. It’s still a missed opportunity for Costner though, who could really use a resurgence - after all, it has been a good half-dozen years since he is taking on a leading role on the big screen.
(A tonally uneven mix of action, comedy and family drama that is held together by the gruff charisma of its leading man)
Review by Gabriel Chong